On This Day: Renata Tebaldi’s Relationship With ‘La Bohème’ & ‘Manon Lescaut’

By David Salazar

What do Renata Tebaldi, Puccini’s “La Bohème” and his “Manon Lescaut” have in common? They were all “born” on the same day – Feb. 1.

The great soprano came into the world on Feb. 1, 1922 in Pesaro, Italy, the land of Rossini, but ironically not one of the featured composers in her repertoire. She did sing two of his opera’s,” “L’assedio di Corinto” and “Gugliemo Tell,” performing the first work 10 times and the latter seven throughout her entire career. She also performed the “Stabat Mater” three times.

The composer that she did perform extensively was Puccini, whose two aforementioned operas had their debuts on the same day. “Manon Lescaut’s” premiere came in 1893 in Teatro Regio in Turin while “La Bohème’s” first ever performance came three years later on the same day in the same theater.

Of a whopping 1048 opera performances throughout her extensive career, Tebaldi dedicated 111 to the role of Mimì and 37 to the heroine in “Manon Lescaut” (for statisticians, that is 14 percent of her career). The only other opera she performed more than “La Bohème” was Puccini’s “Tosca,” which she took on 162 times in her career.

Tebaldi & Mimì

Tebaldi famously sang her first Mimì in Rovigo in 1945, the story famous because her co-star was killed by a bomb prior to the open performances. She sang the role 36 times at the Met, her first performances coming on Feb. 9, 1955, 10 days after her debut at the Old House in “Otello.” That performance of Puccini’s work featured Giusepee Campora as her lover Rodolfo, Ettore Bastianini as Marcello and Jean Fenn as Musetta. James McCracken, still unknown in that time, played Parpignol. Fausto Cleva conducted.  Her final performance of the opera at the Met took place on Jan. 24, 1970 with Cleva conducting and Richard Tucker as her Rodolfo. She did perform the role one more time with the company in Massachusetts on April 20, 1970 alongside Carlo Bergonzi.

There were a whopping seven commercial recordings of the opera released featuring Tebaldi, the most famous starring Bergonzi form 1959 under the baton of Tullio Serafin. Her first recording was from 1951 and was conducted by constant collaborator Alberto Erede. There are also close to 20 live performances of Tebaldi as Mimì recorded in some fashion, the last one dating from 1970 from the Metropolitan Opera.

Tebaldi & Manon Lescaut

Tebaldi’s first “Manon Lescaut” performances are difficult to track down, but she performed it at the Met Opera for the first time on Dec. 3, 1958 with Richard Tucker and Fausto Cleva in the pit. Her 14th and final time singing the opera in New York took place on April 10, 1968. Tucker was her stage partner in that performance.

There was only one commercial recording of “Manon Lescaut” released with the soprano in the title role; it dates from 1954 and stars Mario Del Monaco as Des Grieux with Francesco Molinari-Pradelli conducting. There are seven live performances recording in some form.


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