Opera Singer. He was born in Motta Sant'Anastasia, a medieval village near Catania, Sicily, and was the son of a carabiniere turned cobbler and a dressmaker. He entered a Jesuit seminary and once considered entering the priesthood. One of the leading operatic tenors of the 20th century, di Stefano is most remembered for his collaborations with La Divina, Maria Callas. He enjoyed a brilliant career stretching from the late 1940s until the early 1970s. At his spiritual home, La Scala, Milan, he appeared 185 times in no fewer than 43 productions. Known as "Pippo" to his friends and admirers, he was noted for his performances of the leading roles of Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi and Puccini, as well as for his dandyism and his love of cigars and beautiful women. He made his debut at La Scala on March 15, 1947 in Massenet's Manon. But it was his appearances alongside Callas, beginning with La traviata in São Paolo in 1951 under the baton of Tullio Serafin, which were to set the seal on his artistic success. His recordings with Callas, such as the Tosca with Tito Gobbi conducted by Victor de Sabata, are considered by many to be unsurpassed. In 1938 he entered and won a national competition for new voices. After army service in 1941 he returned to Milan in 1943 and made his formal debut at Reggio Emilia in Puccini's Manon Lescaut in 1946. Following his debut at La Scala, di Stefano became a regular performer at the opera house alongside such artists as Giulietta Simionato and Renata Tebaldi and conductors Victor de Sabata and Herbert von Karajan. He sang 112 times at the Metropolitan Opera, New York following his debut there as the Duke in Rigoletto in 1948. In 1957 he performed Nemorino in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore at the Edinburgh Festival and four years later came to Covent Garden as Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca. After a magical performance Sir Rudolf Bing said this was the most beautiful sound he had heard come out of a human throat during his years as General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera. During his international career he won a gold Orfeo, an Italian musical award similar to America's Oscar. Dropping out of a London performance as Rodolfo in Puccini's La Boheme in 1963, he was replaced by a young Luciano Pavarotti thus launching the latter's international career. Pavarotti, who died in September 2007, considered di Stefano his idol. On December 3, 2004, the tenor was the victim of a violent and tragic attack by robbers at his holiday home at Diani in Kenya in which he was gravely injured. He was taken to hospital in Mombasa but entered a coma four days later. On December 23 of that year he was transferred to Milan, but though he awoke from the coma never fully recovered from the incident. He died early on March 3 at his home in Brianza, north of Milan.
Bio by: Geoffrey D. Decker