Soprano Renata Tebaldi dies
Rome -- Renata Tebaldi, an Italian soprano renowned for her angelic voice, her stardom at New York's Metropolitan and Italy's La Scala, and her media-fueled rivalry with Maria Callas, died Sunday at age 82.
The opera singer died at her home in San Marino, a tiny, independent republic in north-central Italy, after a long illness, said Dr. Niksa Simetovic.
Tebaldi was considered to have one of the most beautiful Italian voices of the 20th century, relying on rich, perfectly produced tones. The late conductor Arturo Toscanini once said she had "the voice of an angel."
"Farewell, Renata, your memory and your voice will be etched on my heart forever," tenor Luciano Pavarotti said Sunday, quoted by the ANSA news agency.
La Scala music director Riccardo Muti praised Tebaldi as "one of the greatest performers with one of the most extraordinary voices in the field of opera." At Venice's La Fenice theater, the audience observed a minute of silence in her memory.
Tebaldi, who was at her peak in the 1950s, was recalled for her renditions of Puccini and Verdi with a voice praised for its purity of timbre and exceptional range.
For years, opera fans devoured details of what they perceived as a prima donna duel between Tebaldi and Callas, and La Scala devotees were divided into two camps much as Milan's soccer fans are hotly split over the city's two soccer teams.
But much of the supposed rivalry with the Greek-American diva was actually whipped up by the media. After her retirement, Tebaldi told an interviewer she had never considered fiery Callas a rival.
In all, Tebaldi made 270 performances at the Met, invited back season after season as one of the opera house's most popular singers.
Tebaldi was born on Feb. 1, 1922, in Pesaro, the Adriatic resort that is the birthplace of composer Gioacchino Rossini and the host of summer music concerts. After recovering from polio, contracted when she was 3, she studied at that town's conservatory and at the conservatory of Parma.
Tebaldi never married. A memorial service will be Tuesday in San Marino, her doctor said, and another memorial will likely also be planned in Milan.
A fortunate film
"Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" brought in $30.2 million of good fortune at the box office to debut in first place, The Associated Press reports.
The film based on the first three children's books by Lemony Snicket, who is actually author Daniel Handler, knocked the star-driven sequel "Ocean's Twelve" to second place, according to Sunday studio estimates. "Spanglish," a new Sony film starring Tea Leoni, Adam Sandler and Spanish actress Paz Vega, made its debut in third with an estimated weekend haul of $9 million.
"Lemony Snicket" tells the story of a trio of orphans who try to defend themselves from Count Olaf, played by Jim Carrey, who pursues the Baudelaire children by concealing himself as a variety of thinly veiled characters.
Spanish film star Penelope Cruz and Mexican actress Salma Hayek say they hit it off from day one during the filming of "Bandidas," a Western about two female outlaws set in 19th century Mexico, The Associated Press reports.
"We've enjoyed it from the first day until yesterday," said Cruz about 14 weeks of working with Hayek, mostly in the northern Mexican state of Durango. "Now she's one of the best companions I've ever encountered or ever will."
Written and produced by French filmmaker Luc Besson, "Bandidas" tells the story of two women -- one rich, one poor -- who overcome their differences to work together robbing banks.
Besson testified to the close relationship between the two starring actresses.
"I just want to tell you it's 100 percent true," he said. "They speak Spanish. We don't understand anything."
Free of 'Idol' doubts
Even though millions of people voted Fantasia Barrino as their "American Idol," The Associated Press reports there was a time the singer doubted America's fondness for her.
"Towards the end, I didn't think I was gonna win, when it was me and Diana DeGarmo," the 20-year-old told The AP in a recent interview.
Some of that skepticism crept into her psyche after fellow contestants Jennifer Hudson and La Toya London got the boot. Public discussion centered on whether voters would pick another black singer as their champion.
Barrino won by more than 1.3 million votes. Her debut album, "Free Yourself," was released last month.
The best seller
U.S. Sen.-elect Barack Obama, whose 1995 book jumped onto best-seller lists after his keynote address to the Democratic National Convention, has landed a three-book deal worth $1.9 million, The Associated Press reports.
Obama will write two books for adults and one for children.
He'll be paid an $850,000 advance for each adult book and $200,000 for the children's book, said Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs. Proceeds from the children's book, which Obama will work on with his wife, Michelle, and their two young daughters, will go to charity, Gibbs said.