Giuseppe Di Stefano (24 July 1921 – 3 March 2008) was an Italian operatic tenor who sang professionally from the late 1940s until the early 1990s. He was known as the “Golden voice” or “The most beautiful voice”, as the true successor of Beniamino Gigli. He was also known for his long-term performance and recording association and brief romantic episode with the soprano Maria Callas.
After serving in the Italian military (and briefly taking lessons from the Swiss tenor Hugues Cuénod), Di Stefano made his operatic debut in 1946 in Reggio Emilia as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon, the role in which he made his La Scala debut the following year. He made his New York debut at the Metropolitan Opera 1948 as the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto after singing the role in Riccione with Hjördis Schymberg that summer. He went on to perform regularly in New York for many years. In 1957, Di Stefano made his British debut at the Edinburgh Festival as Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore and his Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, debut in 1961, as Cavaradossi in Tosca.Giuseppe Di Stefano was born in Motta Sant’Anastasia, a village near Catania, Sicily, in 1921. He was the only son of a carabiniere turned cobbler and his dressmaker wife. Di Stefano was educated at a Jesuit seminary and briefly contemplated entering the priesthood.
As a singer, Di Stefano was admired for his excellent diction, unique timbre, passionate delivery and, in particular, for the sweetness of his soft singing. In his Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast debut in Faust, he attacked the high C forte and then softened to a pianissimo. Sir Rudolf Bing said in his memoirs that this was the most beautiful sound he had heard come out of a human throat during his many years as general manager of the Metropolitan Opera.
During his years of international celebrity, Di Stefano won a gold Orfeo, an Italian musical award.
In 1973, Di Stefano accompanied Maria Callas on her final recital tour that ended in 1974: critics remarked that both were losing their voices, but the public reaction was enthusiastic everywhere. It was during this period the two had a brief romantic relationship. Di Stefano’s final operatic role was as the aged Emperor in Turandot, in July 1992.
In November 2004, Di Stefano was critically injured in his home in Diani Beach, Kenya, after a brutal beating by unknown assailants. Di Stefano was ambushed in his car with his wife, Monika Curth, as they prepared to drive from their villa in Diani, a coastal resort near Mombasa on the Indian Ocean. The singer was still unconscious a week after the attack and was fed intravenously, and underwent several operations.
After two surgeries in Mombasa, Di Stefano was flown to the San Raffaele clinic at Milan in December 2004, where he slipped into a coma. Eventually he awakened from coma, but his health never fully improved. He died in his home in Santa Maria Hoè, north of Milan, on 3 March 2008 at the age of 86.
Luciano Pavarotti said he modeled himself after Di Stefano, a fact that gained much attention after Pavarotti’s death in September 2007. He was also the tenor who most inspired José Carreras.
Recordings with Maria Callas
Di Stefano sang the tenor leads in several of the most famous recordings of Maria Callas, all of which were for EMI. Together they recorded the following complete operas:
- Lucia di Lammermoor – 1953
- I puritani – 1953
- Cavalleria rusticana – 1953
- Tosca – 1953
- Pagliacci – 1954
- Rigoletto – 1955
- Il trovatore – 1956
- La bohème – 1956
- Un ballo in maschera – 1956
- Manon Lescaut – 1957
A series of duets with Di Stefano and Callas was recorded by the Philips label in the period November–December 1972, with Antonio de Almeida conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. These recordings were not published officially, but a ‘pirate’ version did appear.
Besides his recordings with Callas, he also made complete EMI sets of Madama Butterfly (opposite Victoria de los Ángeles, 1954) and La traviata (with Antonietta Stella and Tito Gobbi, 1955).
For English Decca he recorded L’elisir d’amore with Hilde Gueden and Fernando Corena (1955), La Gioconda (with Zinka Milanov and Leonard Warren, 1957), La forza del destino (1958) and a second Tosca (with Leontyne Price and Giuseppe Taddei, Herbert von Karajan conducting, 1962).
For Ricordi (Ricordi MRO 104/105), he made a complete stereo Lucia di Lammermoor with Renata Scotto, Ettore Bastianini and Ivo Vinco in 1958, with Nino Sanzogno conducting the Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala, Milan.
In 1995, VAI issued an approved version of La bohème, from a 1959 performance in New Orleans, with the tenor starring opposite Licia Albanese, Audrey Schuh, Giuseppe Valdengo and Norman Treigle. Additionally, in 1962 the tenor recorded excerpts from Massenet’s Manon, with Anna Moffo, conducted by René Leibowitz.
In 1951, Di Stefano sang in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem, at Carnegie Hall, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, the other soloists being Herva Nelli, Fedora Barbieri and Cesare Siepi. It was released as a recording by RCA.
- Medicine Opera
- Metropolitan Opera
- Hampsong Foundation
- Great Opera Singers
- Italy org
- Giuseppe di Stefano Officiale web-site
- Obituary in The Guardian
- Obituary in New York Times
- Obituary in The Independent
Giuseppe di Stefanotenor