March 4, 2008
Opera legend Giuseppe di Stefano, March 3
Giuseppe di Stefano, an Italian lyric tenor who was a celebrated singing partner of soprano Maria Callas and a role model for the late Luciano Pavarotti, died Monday, March 3, 2008, in Santa Maria Hoe, Italy, north of Milan. He was 86. Family said he had never fully recovered from wounds sustained when he was struck on the head while trying to protect his wife during a robbery at gunpoint at his family's villa in Kenya in 2004. Born in Catania, Sicily, on July 24, 1921, di Stefano was drafted into the Italian army during World War II. A lieutenant heard him sing and thought his voice so glorious that he used every trick to get him removed from the battalion before it shipped out to the Russian front. Not one of the soldiers came back. Di Stefano kept a picture of the man who saved him on his desk for the rest of his life. He made his operatic debut in 1946 as Des Grieux in Jules Massenet's Manon. The following year, he made his La Scala debut in the same role. He first sang at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1948 as the Duke of Mantua in Verdi's Rigoletto and went on to sing 112 performances in that house from 1948 to 1965. Di Stefano would go on to sing in all the major opera houses in Chicago, Paris, London, Vienna and Berlin, among other cities. He met Callas in 1952, and the two forged one of the most legendary partnerships in opera, making numerous recordings and touring together, including for her ill-fated, aborted 1973-74 final tour. According to an insider's tell-all book published in 1992, the two had an affair from 1972 until Callas' death in 1977. Pavarotti, who never failed to say that di Stefano had been his idol, received his big break when he replaced the older tenor after he had dropped out of a performance of Puccini's La Boheme at London's Covent Garden in 1963. He's shown here with Callas in March 1974.