This month we celebrate the birth of Giuseppe di Stefano, an opera singer from Sicily, who sang all over the world including Milan, New York, Vienna and even in New Orleans. At the very start of his musical studies, which began around the time of WWII, the young tenor was drafted into the Italian Army. He became known around camp as the singing soldier, where he entertained the troops with Neapolitan love ballads. His battalion was soon awarded the glorious opportunity of being shipped off to the Russian front, but thanks to the regimental doctor who loved opera, di Stefano was given a certificate that he could not serve on the front line. He stayed behind singing to the troops.
Then in 1943, Italy signed an armistice with the Allies. Germany invaded Sicily and started rounding up Italian troops and sending them to POW camps.
Di Stefano fled to Switzerland and stayed in a refugee camp. While there, he began singing and the camp’s inhabitants were much impressed. The camp commander allowed him to leave the camp on occasion and he began to sing all over Switzerland. He sang using the pseudonym, Nino Florio, to avoid problems with the Germans. In 1944, a priest heard him singing in a cafe and he put him in touch with the head of Radio Lussane. He was quickly invited to record with them.
Here is one of his recordings he made in 1944 from Manon by Massenet. Di Stefano is only 24 years old. He is still two years away from his debut in opera and three years away from his first appearance at La Scala in the same role heard in this excerpt. He would thereafter explode onto the opera scene.
This is the voice that would soon take over Italy and the world and would later become the main partner to the great Maria Callas. What a joy to have this recording of such a young, gifted singer. Even here, you can hear the perfect diction, the unabashed passionate tone, and style. This was the voice that Pavarotti, and in particular, Jose Carreras, would try to emulate.
Listen and enjoy Nino Florio aka Giuseppe di Stefano.