Sadly, over the last year the
world of opera has lost two of its grandest tenors.
Undoubtedly, the demise in September 2007 of Luciano Pavarotti stole
the headlines of the music world in a way that few other operatic singers
could. "Big Luciano" was a cultural superstar. In a sense he was
to opera what Frank Sinatra was to popular music. Ironically, early in 2007 the man whom
Pavarotti looked up to as a model also succumbed to the
That older tenor was the great Giuseppe Di Stefano. Maestro Di Stefano
was born on 24 July 1921 in Motta Sant'Anastasia, a town near Catania. Although
Di Stefano considered entering the Catholic priesthood, his obvious vocal
talents impressed everyone, including his parish priest, and propelled him
forward into a singing career.
His first professional role was in a French opera performed in Reggio
Emilia immediately after the second World War. He sang the role of Des Grieux
in "Manon" by Jules Massenet. He quite impressed the public, the
critics and most importantly the impresarios with the excellence of his
delivery. His voice had a rich timbre while at the same time it could be
either passionate or soft depending on the aria. Many operatic aficionados
also appreciated his clear diction and physical presence. He could rightly
be called "regal."
These qualities helped him to repeat this success at the "sanctum
sanctorum" of world opera houses, Milan's La Scala, in 1947. His triumphs
did not end here. The very next year Di Stefano went to New York to perform
in Giuseppe Verdi's "Rigoletto" as the Duke of Mantua. His rendition
of "La donna è mobile" won a standing ovation at the Metropolitan
His personal repertoire included most of the lyric tenor roles: "L'elisir
d'amore" by Donizetti, "Tosca" by Puccini, "Faust"
by Gounod, "Il Trovatore" by Verdi and "I Puritani"
by his fellow Sicilian Vincenzo Bellini. In fact,
because he was Sicilian himself, his portrayal of Turiddu in the one-act
operatic tragic masterpiece "Cavalleria Rusticana" is still considered
the definitive performance by many.
During this tour Di Stefano even had the honour of performing Verdi's
"Requiem" at Carnegie Hall, with the legendary Arturo Toscanini
On the international stage Di Stefano began a fruitful and artistically
satisfying collaboration with the greatest soprano and diva of the mid-twentieth
century, Maria Callas. Though they sang together many times on the great
stages of Europe and America and recorded their performances, it was her
last recital tour of 1973 that brought their professional and personal relationship
into the public eye.
Unfortunately, it was a project cut short in the following year because
of vocal problems for both artists. Despite this, the two remained loyal
friends and colleagues until Callas' untimely death.
While Di Stefano deservedly won Italy's "Orfeo" music award,
the seventies saw his career somewhat eclipsed. His great contemporary rival
was Mario Del Monaco, who was better able to tackle the heavier tenor roles
that Di Stefano's lyric voice simply could not, such as Verdi's difficult
It was a musical situation similar to the later rivalry between Luciano
Pavarotti and Placido Domingo. Happily, however, Di Stefano continued recording
for posterity with such colleagues as Victoria de los Angeles, Antonietta
Stella, Zinka Milanov, Licia Albanese, Renata Scotto and Leontyne Price.
Naturally, his name will always be linked, above all, to the great Callas.
Although he continued to appear in public for specific recitals or concerts
his last role was in Puccini's final opera "Turandot" as the elderly
Emperor --a fittingly royal exit for such an imposing presence as Di Stefano.
This was in the summer of 1992.
Sadly, in retirement in Africa this great talent was the victim of senseless
violence in late 2004 which robbed the world not only of a great voice but
also of a cordially gallant Sicilian gentleman. His death occurred on 3
About the Author: Beniamino Inserra is Best of Sicily's resident opera critic.