Giuseppe di Stefano was an Italian lyric tenor, hailed as one of the finest operatic tenors of his generation. Pippo (nicknamed by his friends) was known as the “golden voice and was considered the true successor of Beniamino Gigli.
Even Luciano Pavarotti declared that he modelled himself after Di Stefano. In an interview Pavarotti said Di Stefano is my idol. There is this solar voice… It was the most incredible, open voice you could hear. The musicality of Di Stefano is as natural and beautiful as the voice is phenomenal.
Besides Pavarotti, Giuseppe di Stefano was also the inspiration for Jose Carreras. Di Stefano was born in Motta Sant’Anastasia, a village near Catania, Sicily, in 1921. He moved to Milan at the age of six. When he was 18, he began studying canto with the baritones Luigi Montesanto and Mariano Stabile. During the World War Two, he was forced to interrupt his career and join the army. He was considered such a bad soldier that his commanding officer decided that he would better serve his country by leaving.
He began his career as a lyric tenor, remarkable in roles such as Nemorino (L’Elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti) and Alfredo in Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. Di Stefano made his operatic debut in 1946 in Reggio Emilia in Manon by Jules Massenet. In February 1948, Di Stefano made his debut at MET Opera with the role of Duke di Mantua in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. His British debut was at the Edinburgh Festival as Nemorino in L’Elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti and his Royal Opera House debut was in 1961, as Mario Cavaradossi in Tosca by Giacomo Puccini.
Di Stefano is praised for his excellent diction, unique timbre and passionate performance, especially his soft and sweet singing. In his MET radio broadcast debut in Faust by Charles Gounod, he attacked the high C forte and then softened to a pianisssimo. Sir Rudolf Bing said in his memories that the most spectacular single moment in my observation yet had come when I heard his diminuendo on the high C in “Salut! demeure” in Faust: I shall never as long as I live forget the beauty of that sound.
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