Music: Diva Serena

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In her occasional attempts to introduce visual fire to her performances, she inclines to what one critic called "the battering-ram approach." This was noticeable again in her Chicago Butterfly, in which, after committing suicide, she flung the knife resoundingly to the floor and died somewhat grotesquely, crawling the width of the stage in response to Pinkerton's thrice-called "Butterfly!" But her real failing, say her harshest critics, is not one of stagecraft but of emotional involvement. While some observers recall her on the verge of tears after a performance of Butterfly, others remember her picking herself up after the death scene in Traviata and strolling into the wings humming a pop tune.

Nevertheless, under the tutelage of various stage directors, including Roberto Rossellini (who directed her in Otello in Naples), Tebaldi's acting has improved in recent years—most noticeably in her mastery of an imaginatively conceived and many-faceted Aïda. Now slimmed down from what she called her troppo robusta dimensions ("I lose 25 pounds in three years!"), she is better able to cope with bantam-sized tenors and the visual realities of such consumptive roles as Mimi and Violetta.

Above all, she has preserved the remarkable instrument of her voice in all its original power and glory. While other singers' voices begin to fray, Tebaldi's only grows more refulgent with the years. "A career," says Tebaldi's friend Licia Albanese, "should be slow, taken quietly. Renata is a quiet person. And she takes the singing quiet. She is right. It must be so."

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