A number of opera's golden-age stars have passed away in recent years, but none quite so sadly as the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano who officially died yesterday, but whose life was effectively ended more than three years ago when, at the age of 83, he was beaten during a robbery at his Kenyan villa. He had been on life support in a Milanese hospital ever since, incapacitated by severe head injuries.
Di Stefano's operatic career was comparatively short, starting in the late 1940s, hitting its stride in the 1950s, and effectively ending in the mid-1960s, but he did continue to sing in public in a limited capacity until the early '70s. Di Stefano's voice did not age well, arguably due to his choice to sing heavier dramatic repertoire that wasn't suited to his essentially lyrical gifts, but in his prime he was one of the finest Italianate voices on the international scene. His 1953 recording of Puccini's Tosca with Maria Callas in the title role and Victor de Sabata conducting is his most recognizable recording, and it was his continued partnership with Callas that cemented his status as a leading tenor. Ironically, or perhaps just fittingly, appearances with Callas on her farewell tour in 1973-74 -- when both singers were suffering severe vocal decline -- marked the official end of di Stefano's public career.
Less well known to casual opera fans are di Stefano's early recordings, many just with piano, that capture his voice in its youthful prime. He had an innate feel for Neapolitan song, Italian art songs, and arias in French as well as his native language before he gained real fame. Revisiting that time is as good a way as any to celebrate the life, and commemorate the sad death, of a well-loved singer.
Puccini: Tosca -- Act One, "Ah, Quegli Occhi..."
Puccini: Tosca -- Act Three, "E lucevan le stelle"
Paulo Tosti: L'ultima canzone
Massenet: Werther -- "Pourquoi me rÃ©veiller"