After studying in Rome and Naples, Tamberlik made his debut at the Teatro del Fondo in Naples in 1841. He was particularly associated with heroic roles in Italian and French operas, and sang regularly with the Italian Opera Company at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg from 1850 until 1863. According to Herman Laroche, Tamberlik's performances left an indelible impression on the young Tchaikovsky.
In 1860, Tamberlik wrote to Giuseppe Verdi in the name of the Imperial Theatres' Directorate asking him to write an opera for Saint Petersburg. Verdi accepted, and by August 1861 he had embarked on the composition of La forza del destino. Within three months the opera was ready, and in December 1861 Verdi travelled to the Russian imperial capital with his second wife, the singer Giuseppina Strepponi, in order to supervise the preliminary rehearsals. However, because of problems with the casting La forza del destino was not premiered until the following season, at the Saint Petersburg Bolshoi Kamennyi Theatre, on 10/22 November 1862. The premiere took place in Verdi's presence, with Tamberlik creating the role of Don Alvaro, but it met with a rather cool reception from the Russian public, and even more so from the critics and professional musicians who resented the fact that the Italian maestro was paid 22,000 rubles for his opera whereas Russian composers could not receive more than 500.
At his first performance in the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre as Manrico in Verdi's Il trovatore on 24 September/6 October 1870, Tamberlik was met with catcalls and hisses from the audience who were dissatisfied with his singing. A few days later Tchaikovsky wrote an open letter of support to Tamberlik (Letter 208), signed by himself and ten other professors at the Moscow Conservatory. This letter appeared in the 3 October 1870 [O.S.] issue of the Moscow Register. The composer referred to this intervention on behalf of one of the singers he most revered in a letter to his brother Modest on 5/17 October: "Tamberlik was hissed off the stage here, and I wrote a [letter of] protest signed by all the professors of the Conservatory" .
Correspondence with Tchaikovsky
One letter from Tchaikovsky to Enrico Tamberlik has survived, dating from 1870: