Giuseppe Di Stefano is one of the great Italian tenors in history. For many, he possessed the finest timbre of all lyrical tenors, and some fans lament the tenor’s insistence on singing operas that are often darker and heavier than his lyrics apparently could bear.
And yet, one of the reasons Pippo, born July 24, 1921, was so compelling as an artist was his ability to use his voice with such depth of expression. Di Stefano was not just a great singer with polished phrasing and magnificent sound. He was a truly immersive dramatic artist, each of his best renditions delivered with an incredible undertone of emotion and characterization.
So today we’re going to take a look at some of his greatest recordings and marvel at why he was precisely so captivating in his depth of expression.
“E luce van le stelle” – Tosca
The recording with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi is undoubtedly the biggest of Puccini’s Tosca. Each artist brings their A-game and you feel immersed in the experience. Di Stefano is awesome throughout, but brings together arguably the most heartbreaking rendition of the famous aria. For me, it boils down to the open ‘spoken’ text as Cavaradossi remembers his past. Just listen to how Di Stefano starts off rather dark with the text, then slowly builds it up until he almost breaks down in tears on “Mi cadea, fra le braccia”. I have searched and searched for recordings where this “fra le braccia” comes with the same combination of disillusion and nostalgia. I haven’t quite found it. And then the passages that followed, the stretched and pulled tempo really adds to the feeling of stopping the inevitable. Each top of a phrase collides with Di Stefano’s singular pianissimo chant, with the tenor even giving a glorious diminuendo at one point. He only builds and constructs, the lament becoming unbearable for the singer.
“Un furtiva Lagrima” – L’Elisir d’Amore
When it comes to bel canto, almost everything is enough for Di Stefano (except perhaps Rossini), because the tenor voice was built for this kind of song. But we are without doubt going with the most famous aria in the bel canto repertoire because Di Stefano delivers a performance tinged with melancholy and excitement. We can feel Nemorino smile just by listening to the brightness of the sound. Even the diminuendo at the end of the first stanza gives the impression that Nemorino cherished that moment when he saw Adina cry. The richness of the sound corresponds to the abundance of joy that makes it seem like it’s about to explode at any moment. When Donizetti’s music finally allows this emotional climax to kick in, Di Stefano arrives with a captivating crescendo that brings the listener into pure exhilaration.
“Hello remains” – Faust
If you know the art of Di Stefano, then you know why this selection is included in this list. And it boils down to a note – a high C to be precise. The tune itself is sung beautifully, Di Stefano in his most beautiful voice and gains in intensity as the tune expands. You could feel Faust’s growing passion and tenderness with each passing phrasing until he finally reached that peak, with which he did the impossible. Rudolf Bing is said to have claimed one of his memorable moments at the Met. Few other tenors have done it before and some of the greatest who have tried it have failed. Di Stefano’s diminuendo is quite simply one of the most incredible musical moments for any tenor. And it’s right there. It expresses desire, longing and tenderness in a moment that seems to last a while.
“La Donna e Mobile” – Rigoletto
There are a number of different sections of this opera that you could probably include, but Verdi’s famous aria was the choice because sometimes it feels like this aria was made for Di Stefano’s warm and elegant sound. . Listening to his song, the first impression we have is that he is playing and having fun singing it. He throws diminuendos and crescendi on the notes as he wants. He sometimes slows down the tempos to accentuate certain texts, especially in the second verse, subverting the audience’s expectations and manipulating us to follow his example, much like the Duca does throughout the opera. And while one of the high notes isn’t perfectly tuned, this final High B is simply sublime. In the recording below, the tenor rehearses the aria with the same charm and phrasing that is still fascinating.
“Ah si ben mio” – Il Trovatore
Il Trovatore is often performed by tenors with dramatic voices and weight, clearly with the challenges of “Di Quella Pira” in mind. But Manrico is not just a warrior. He is also a troubadour gypsy. Many tenors tend to emphasize the former over the latter despite Verdi giving the character a rather lyrical opening tune and a number of passages that highlight his need to sing with color. delicate vocals. One of them is “Ah Si ben mio”, one long line of legato going up after another. And Di Stefano, while injecting the aria with intense despair, is able to remind us that beneath the rugged warrior hides a gentle soul who can see the love of his life for the last time in his life. The driving force of Di Stefano adds to the torture that Manrico feels, while keeping an elegance of line, a reminder of the dual nature of the character.
“No, Pagliaccio not son” – Pagliacci
While you might have your take on whether Di Stefano’s lyrical tenor should approach this rep, there’s no doubt that his risk-taking pays off in the recordings with Maria Callas. The two have always been sensational partners and their interaction in the final scene of Leoncavallo’s masterpiece is one of the most visceral fights ever recorded in opera (ditto for the aforementioned “Tosca”). What’s fascinating about Di Stefano here is how he switches from magnificent lyricism halfway through the stage and then us here the phrasing slowly becomes more accentuated, the tenor pushing his voice further and further over the edge. You can feel the character just unravel through the vocals. Nothing is overlooked, each phrase is more violent than the last, and even the climaxing notes, although comfortable for the tenor, are more and more visceral in their execution culminating in a “La Commedia e finita”.
What is your favorite Di Stefano moment? Let us know in the comments below!