Di Stefano was born in Motta Santa Anastasia, a village near Catania, Sicily. 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.
Di Stefano made his operatic debut in 1946 in Reggio Emilia as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon, the role with which he made his La Scala debut the following year. He made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in 1948 as the Duke in Rigoletto, and he went 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.
As a singer, Di Stefano was admired for his excellent diction, unique timbre, and passionate delivery, and particularly for his sweet silky soft tones. In his Metropolitan radio debut in Faust, he attacked the high C forte and then softened to a pianissimo. Rudolf Bing said this was the most beautiful sound he ever heard come out of a human throat. But the heavier roles that he began to take on were not really suited for a lyric tenor, and by the mid 1960s he had all but ended his operatic career. (Tenor Luciano Pavarotti modeled himself after Di Stefano, and on the 1992 PBS television program Pavarotti and the Italian Tenor, a vocal coach explained that Di Stefano’s technique was faulty because he did not use the passagio in his voice as he should have.) In 1973, he accompanied Maria Callas on her final recital tour, an undertaking that was eventually aborted in 1974 due to the vocal shortcomings of both singers. His final operatic role was as the aged emperor in Turandot in July 1992.
In December 2004, Di Stefano was critically injured in his home in Diani, Kenya after a brutal beating by unknown attackers. The retired singer was ambushed in his car with his wife 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.
In December 2007, Di Stefano was flown to the San Raffaele clinic at Milan, where he slipped into a coma. He died in his home in Santa Maria Hoè near Milan on 3 March 2008, aged 86.
Edited by uglyfat on 12 May 2011, 22:17
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