Having studied singing with Leopoldo Gennai and Annibale Guidotti, Tagliabue made his operatic stage debut in 1922 as Amonasro / Aida followed by Hermann / Loreley (Catalani), both at Lodi. In 1923 he enjoyed success at Genoa, making his debut there as Kurwenal / Tristan und Isolde and subsequently singing Escamillo / Carmen opposite Conchita Supervia. He appeared in Florence, Palermo and the Verona Arena, as well as abroad in Lisbon and in Havana during the 1929–1930 season.
Tagliabue now established himself as one of Italy’s leading baritones, making his debuts at La Scala, Milan and Turin in 1930 and at Rome and Naples in 1931, in each instance as Kurwenal. His German repertoire also included Göttterdämmerung, Lohengrin and Tannhäuser, all sung in Italian. He remained a principal baritone for twenty-five years at La Scala, where his Italian repertoire included the title roles in Nabucco and Rigoletto, as well as Germont père / La traviata, di Luna / Il trovatore, Montfort / I vespri siciliani, Don Carlo / La forza del destino, Barnaba / La Gioconda, Alfio / Cavalleria rusticana, Tonio / Pagliacci and David / L’amico Fritz. He also sang in several first performances at La Scala including Robbiani’s Guido del popolo (1933), Respighi’s La fiamma (1934) and Rocca’s La morte di Frine (1937).
In 1934 Tagliabue made his debut at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, where he was extremely popular; and at the Metropolitan Opera, New York at the end of 1937 as Amonasro, promptly followed by di Luna, Germont père, Rigoletto, Marcello / La Bohème, Alfio and Tonio. He returned to the Met for the following season to sing a similar repertoire, with the addition of Enrico / Lucia di Lammermoor and Iago / Otello. On the west coast of the USA he appeared during 1938 at San Francisco, where the critic Marjory Fisher described his Alfio as possessing ‘a commanding stage presence and a rugged baritone of excellent quality’; other roles in San Francisco included Marcello, Don Carlo and Figaro / Il barbiere di Siviglia. His debut at the Royal Opera House, London also came in 1938, as Rigoletto.
During World War II Tagliabue sang in Italy and Germany, appearing at the Berlin State Opera as Rigoletto and Renato / Un ballo in maschera. He returned to London with the visiting company of the Teatro San Carlo of Naples in 1946, when his Rigoletto and Germont père were highly praised. His last London appearance was in 1953 at the Stoll Theatre as Don Carlo, again admired as stylish and dramatic. He made his final appearance at La Scala in 1955, as Germont père opposite Maria Callas in the famous production of La traviata by Luchino Visconti.
Tagliabue continued to sing until 1960, after which he was active as a teacher. He recorded a number of 78rpm discs of solo arias as well as complete performances on LP.
Although physically short, Tagliabue exhibited a strong presence on stage, as surviving opera productions made by Italian television clearly demonstrate. He possessed a classic Italian baritone voice which gained in suavity as his career progressed. The tenor Lauri-Volpi described Tagliabue in his memoirs as ‘the only survivor of a school that knows that in Rigoletto, Un ballo in maschera, Il trovatore, La traviata a melodramatic piece should be sung, measured and breathed musically in line with the mastery of great art.’
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).