(5 of 7)
During the months just before and after the end of World War II, Tebaldi and her mother shuttled from one small town to another. During that period, Tebaldi made her operatic debut (as Helen of Troy in Boito's Mefistofele) in Rovigo; on the way there, fighter planes strafed her train. After Toscanini hired her for the Scala opening in 1946, she smoothly embarked on the international operatic circuit. In her rise to the top she has experienced only one real failurea performance of Traviata at La Scala in 1951 in which her voice broke twice on high notes. The audience of rabid Tebaldi fans "exclaimed in wonder and dismay," as she puts it, and Renata took to her room for two months. But with characteristic stubbornness, she then accepted an invitation from the San Carlo Opera in Naples to sing nine successive performances of Traviata, and earned nine successive ovations.
War of Sopranos. Tebaldi's rising star inevitably collided with the fiery trail of Maria Meneghini Callas. When they both embarked on South American tours in 1951, an ill-advised concert manager placed them on the same program in Rio, and Tebaldi slipped in several encoresin flagrant violation, Callas claimed, of a no-encore agreement. At a supper party, Callas charged Tebaldi with this and other sins, lectured her for her recent flop in Traviata. "We parted," says Tebaldi, "with a certain coldness."
What followed was the famed "War of the Sopranos," with La Scala the battleground. While Callas bit off larger and larger chunks of the Scala repertory, Tebaldi withdrew completely. To a friend she said: "Two cocks are too many for one chicken coop."
Nevertheless, it looks now as if Tebaldi and not Callas will eventually occupy Milan's chicken coop. In a fit of fury at the accumulated grievances she felt she had suffered, Callas last spring fired off a statement that she and La Scala were through Tebaldi, operating on the somewhat confused principle that she did not want to "sing against anybody," refused to move in to take Callas' place. This season La Scala has neither one of them, but the betting is strong that Tebaldi will be back in Milan by next season. Recently, when Elsa Maxwell suggested a charity concert featuring both of them, Tebaldi said: "Not even God would approve such a benefit."
For Tebaldi, life at the top of the operatic world has proved only slightly different from the life she knew on the way up. "Outside the theater," says Renata, "I feel that nothing in me has changed since adolescence." Although she has had several vague romantic attachments (including one to Bass Nicola Rossi-Lemeni), she has never seriously considered marriage. Says Callas, wife of wealthy Giovanni Battista Meneghini: "What I really wish for her is that she find some wonderful person to marry. Love completes a woman; her art would be even better."