She was born Renata Ersilia Clotilde Tebaldi in Pesaro, Italy. Stricken with polio at the age of three, Renata was unable to partake in strenuous activities and instead became interested in music. In her early teens, Renata began studying music at the Conservatory of Parma. At age 22, Tebaldi made her debut as Elena in Boito's Mefistofele in Rovigo.
Her major breakthrough came in 1946 when she auditioned in Milanfor Arturo Toscanini. Toscanini was favorably impressed, and Tebaldi made her La Scala debut that year at the concert which marked the reopening of the theater after World War II had ended. She sang the "Prayer" from Rossini's biblical opera, Mose, as well as the soprano part in Verdi's Te Deum.
Tebaldi made her American debut as Aïda at the San Francisco Opera, followed soon after by her Metropolitan Opera debut on January 31, 1955, as Desdemona opposite Mario del Monaco's Otello. She then began appearing regularly at the Met as Mimi in La Bohème, Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Desdemona, Manon, and Violetta in a staging of La Traviata ccreated specially for her.
For the 1962/1963 season, Tebaldi convinced the director of the Met, Rudolf Bing to stage a revival of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur. The opera had not been staged since the turn of the century, but Bing was convinced that it would be a great success for Tebaldi, and for Franco Corelli, who sang the role of Maurizio. Unfortunately, Tebaldi was not in top vocal form. Alarmed, she took a thirteen month hiatus from the stage. She later returned as Mimi to great acclaim.
Tebaldi retired from the stage in 1973 and from the concert hall in 1976. She lives in Milan.
There is said to have been a rivaly between Tebaldi and Maria Callas, but it appears to have been more a rivaly between the highly partisan fans of the two famous divas. While both where active in Italy in the 1950s, they had very different voices, different reperoires, and different tempraments. In any case, on September 16, 1968, Callas went backstage after a performance of Adriana Lecouvreur to warmly congratulate Tebaldi, thereby dispelling any bad blood once and for all.