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Obituary: Giuseppe di Stefano

Obituary by Jack Foley

GIUSEPPE di Stefano, one of the world’s greatest tenors and a man hailed by the late Luciano Pavarotti as “the maestro”, has died at his home near Milan at the age of 86.

Famed for his powerful voice, di Stefano was perhaps best known for his roles in Verdi’s Rigoletto and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, as well as acclaimed performances at the world’s most prestigious opera houses, including Milan’s La Scala, New York’s Metropolitan, Vienna and Berlin. He also performed a number of popular duets with the late Maria Callas,

However, he never fully recovered after being attacked while on holiday in Kenya in 2004 and needed two operations after being hit on the head by unknown assailants while attempting to prevent them from stealing his wife’s necklace. It is believed he died on Monday (March 3, 2008) as a result of the injuries he sustained during the attack.

Born in Motta Sant’Anastasia, a village near Catania, Sicily, on July 21, 1921, di Stefano was the only son of a carabiniere (policeman) turned cobbler and his dressmaker wife.

He briefly contemplayed entering the priesthood after being educated at a Jesuit seminary but quickly developed a passion for music. At the age of 25, he made his operatic debut (in 1946) in Reggio Emilia as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon – a role which he reprised for his debut at La Scala the following year.

Over the next five decades, he captured the hearts and minds of opera fans and fellow artists thanks to his widespread performances, passionate delivery and excellent diction. Indeed, Pavarotti modeled himself after Di Stefano, having been inspired by him from an early age.

Rome saw his last performance in 1992.

In addition to Ms Curth, a former singer whom he married in 1994, he is survived by a daughter, Floria, and a son, Giuseppe. Another daughter, Luisa, from his first marriage, died in 1975.