While still at school Taddei sang on church steps to raise money for his classmates, studied singing with Giuseppina Lusso and sang solo items at school presentations. In 1932, aged only sixteen, he appeared at the Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, in Pallastrelli’s opera Il gatto stivalato as Don Basilio Perdifiato; and three years later won a vocal competition organised by the Teatro Reale, Rome. Here he made his formal operatic debut on Boxing Day 1936 as the Herald / Lohengrin, conducted by Tullio Serafin (who was to be an important mentor) alongside another baritone Tito Gobbi, at whose wedding he sang in 1937.
During World War II Taddei continued to sing in Genoa, Naples and Rome (the first performance in 1941 of Malipiero’s opera Ecuba) before being conscripted into the Italian army in 1942. Later he was interned by the Germans in a prisoner of war camp where his singing proved to be a positive asset. Following the liberation of Vienna by the Americans and Russians he made himself known to the occupying forces and began to sing in the city frequently, making his debut at the Vienna State Opera during May 1946 in the title role of Rigoletto.
Vienna became an important musical home for Taddei. He sang regularly at the State Opera until 1990 in a total of twenty-seven roles over more than 400 performances. Initially he sang lighter roles such as Escamillo / Carmen before moving into heavier repertoire with Iago / Otello, Scarpia / Tosca, Amonasro / Aida and the title roles in Simon Boccanegra, Gianni Schicchi and Falstaff. He became close to Herbert von Karajan (who served as artistic director of the Vienna State Opera 1957–1964), singing Figaro / Le nozze di Figaro under his baton at the Salzburg Festival in 1948.
Taddei first appeared at La Scala, Milan in 1948 as Gérard / Andrea Chénier, singing there regularly until 1951 and subsequently from 1955 to 1961, frequently opposite Maria Callas. Milan roles included Dr Malatesta / Don Pasquale, Don Pizarro / Fidelio and the four villains / Les Contes d’Hoffmann. He sang at all the major Italian opera houses including those of Rome, Naples, Turin and Venice, as well as at the Verona Arena and the Maggio Musicale, Florence; and participated in notable revivals of Donizetti’s Beatrice di Tenda and of Verdi’s Macbeth at the Teatro Massimo, Palermo in 1959 and 1960 respectively. Taddei’s roles in Italy were numerous, ranging from Hans Sachs / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg to Leporello / Don Giovanni. In Europe he guested at Berlin, Munich, Bucharest and Sofia and appeared frequently at the Bregenz Festival as Falstaff (1968), Dr Dulcamara / L’elisir d’amore (1969) and Sulpice / La Fille du Régiment (1971).
Having made his London debut during 1947, as Scarpia / Tosca with Jay Pomeroy’s New Opera Company at the Cambridge Theatre (he also sang Rigoletto), Taddei first appeared at the Royal Opera House, London as Iago in 1960, returning to sing the same role with Solti in 1968, as well as Rigoletto in 1964. He first sang in America at San Francisco in 1957, appeared with the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1959 and later with the opera companies of Dallas, Miami and Philadelphia. From 1953 to 1965 he was a regular guest at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires and also sang in Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro.
During the 1980s Taddei’s career gained a second wind: he sang Falstaff under Karajan at the Salzburg Festival in 1981 and 1982 and made his belated debut at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York in the autumn of 1985 (again as Falstaff ), receiving ‘a rafter-shaking ovation’ according to the New York Times. He returned to the Met in 1988 as Dulcamara / L’elisir d’amore.
Having celebrated his seventieth birthday in 1986 at the Vienna State Opera singing Scarpia, Taddei marked his eightieth with a concert at Graz, in between singing the title role in Gianni Schicchi at Torre del Lago (1987), Dr Bartolo / Il barbiere di Siviglia at Bonn (1991) and Falstaff at Valencia (1992) amongst much else. Although he formally retired from the stage in 1995, he made his final appearance as Benoit / La Bohème at the Rome Opera in 2003 and marked his ninetieth birthday with the publication of his memoirs in Vienna.
Taddei’s beautiful, liquid baritone voice was well suited to the heroic repertoire of Verdi (his Rigoletto and Macbeth were both extremely impressive) as well as to comic parts. His interpretations possessed a powerful psychological insight as well as great humour where appropriate. Asked what characteristics made a good Sir John Falstaff, he summed up his philosophy by replying: ‘You must like women, a good wine, and a good meal.’
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).