85. Giuseppe Di Stefano (1921 – 2008)

Tenor born in Motto Santa’ Anastasia (Catania) 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, recording association, and brief romantic episode with the soprano Maria Callas.

Di Stefano was educated at a Jesuit seminary and briefly contemplated entering the priesthood. 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” -and 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”.

In 1953 Walter Legge, leader of EMI’s classical wing, was looking for a tenor to record all popular Italian operas with Maria Callas and chose Di Stefano. Among their recording achievements was the famous 1953 studio recording of Tosca under Victor de Sabata, considered by many as the finest opera recording ever made. The two also performed together on stage frequently, from 1951 in South America to the end of 1957 in “Un Ballo in Maschera” at La Scala, the last time the two collaborated in an opera. He sang Alfredo to Callas in the famous Visconti production of “La Traviata” in 1955 at La Scala, as well as Edgardo to her Lucia under Herbert von Karajan at La Scala, Berlin and Vienna.

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.

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 career, Di Stefano won a gold Orfeo, an Italian musical award.

Read More:
1. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giuseppe_Di_Stefano

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