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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Giuseppe di Stefano, 1921-2008

Italian tenor Giuseppe di Stefano, one of the great voices in Italian opera in the 20th century, has passed away. He was 86.

Giuseppe di Stefano was born in Catania, Sicily, in 1921. His international career began in 1946 with the role of Des Grieux in Massenet's Manon. He possessed a distinctive, glorious instrument, combining rich vocal production and gorgeous, sweet tone: immediately recognizable by opera lovers. This unique bel canto style served as a model for many young tenors. The great Luciano Pavarotti modeled his singing style on di Stefano's, and sang similar repertory throughout his own career.

In addition to his many stage appearances. Giuseppe di Stefano was a post-war tenor who helped bring opera into the home of the contemporary listener with help from the newly invented long-playing record. Along with Carlo Bergonzi, Mario del Monaco and Jussi Bjöerling, these singers expanded the role of opera in popular culture, setting the stage for the giant successes of Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Pavarotti.

Most notably, di Stefano recorded ten classic operas opposite the great Maria Callas. Their remarkable run includes some of the most important Callas recordings, and is highlighted by the benchmark 1953 reading of Tosca with Victor de Sabata conducting. Featuring the snarling Scarpia of Tito Gobbi, this Tosca is one of the greatest Puccini recordings--one of the greatest opera recordings ever made.

Although di Stefano had a successful international career, his voice suffered from over-work in the 60s and early '70s. On a final recital tour with Callas, he was a shadow of his former self. . Ultimately, his command of gorgeous tenor line and supple tone vanished to a shadow its former self. The great tenor's last onstage role was in a 1992 production of Turandot in the role of the wispy-voiced Emperor Altoum. It was a sad footnote ending to what had been a glorious career.

In 2004, di Stefano and his wife were ambushed in their car in Kenya. The tenor was brutally beaten by unknown assailants, suffering injuries from which he never fully recovered. Despite several operations, the singer finally died in the San Raffaele Clinic in Milan, Italy.

Thanks to The Rest Is Noise for the news of the tenor's death, Wikipedia for the biographical background, and Opera Chic for the image used above.

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