OP0604. UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, Live Performance, 12 April, 1956, w.Gavazzeni Cond. La Scala Ensemble; Antonietta Stella, Giuseppe di Stefano, Ettore Bastianini, Ebe Stignani, Eugenia Ratti, etc. (Italy) 2-Myto 063.H117. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 8014399501170
"This 1956 BALLO must have been very thrilling for the audience. Di Stefano is in great form….Bastianini’s singing is compellingly gorgeous….The inspired singing of di Stefano and Bastianini must have coaxed from [Stella] the touching Amelia offered here….As Ulrica, in the autumn of her career, [Stignani] has an undeniable grandeur and authority."
- Michael Mark, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, July/Aug., 2005
“Seeming from time to time a serious contender for consideration with the great prima donnas of her time - Callas, Tebaldi, and Milanov - Antonietta Stella never quite pulled together all the elements of her lavish gift. An immensely attractive woman with large, deep-set eyes and a figure that would have found favor in Hollywood, she presented an appealing stage presence but was not always able to control her impulsive histrionic inclinations. Although her vocal endowment led her to an early début, her lovely spinto-weight soprano was not sufficiently technically secure and not supported consistently enough to endure.
By her mid-teens, Stella had determined she would become a professional singer and began her vocal training. After studies in her native Perugia, and later in Rome, she won first prize in the 1949 Bologna Concorso. In 1950, she made a pre-professional appearance on-stage at Spoleto's Sperimentale and followed that in 1951 with her official début at the Rome Opera singing Leonora in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. A recording of SIMON BOCCANEGRA shortly thereafter revealed both a promising voice and some ungainly phrasing. Nonetheless, she was entrusted with the rôle of Lavinia in the world premiere of Guido Guerrini's ENEA, mounted by the Rome Opera in 1953. Italy welcomed the young soprano, despite her lack of experience. Engagements took her to many of the country's most prominent theaters, foremost among them La Scala, where she sang Desdemona in 1954 just a year after she had won good reviews in Florence for her performance in Verdi's AROLDO. Several of the lighter Wagner rôles also came her way with such parts as Elsa and Elisabeth and (less suitably) Sieglinde and Senta. The world beyond welcomed her as well: she was introduced as Aïda at Covent Garden in 1955 and at the Teatro Colón in 1956. Stella became a popular presence in several German houses and won appreciative reviews in Spain and Brazil. Stella made her Metropolitan Opera début on 13 November 13, essaying Aïda. Although she was in good voice, reviews held numerous caveats about her artistry and questions about her willingness to look past the approval of the gallery toward a deeper exploration of text and music. During four seasons, Stella sang more than 50 performances of eight different rôles, including Tosca, Butterfly (a memorable interpretation), Violetta, Elisabeth de Valois, Amelia in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA and the IL TROVATORE Leonora. Several ill-advised cancellations put an effective stop to Stella's American career. First, she exited a series of performances for Lirica Italiana in Japan. In 1957, she canceled her début with the San Francisco Opera. After the soprano presented the Metropolitan Opera with a doctor's certificate in 1960 asking for release (granted) for the company's spring tour and then showed up on the stage of La Scala during the period in question, Rudolf Bing filed breach of contract charges with the American Guild of Musical Artists. The action resulted in her suspension. Stella continued to appear in Europe, but decline was evident before she had reached the age of 40.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“While Ettore Bastianini's career was quite short, it was also distinguished. He was regarded as having one of the finest Verdi and verismo voices of his day, though his vocal gifts were not always matched by an equal musicianship.
Bastianini studied privately with Gaetano Vanni, and sang in the local choir. His professional solo début was in a concert in Siena early in 1945, and his operatic début was at the Ravenna opera as Colline in Puccini's LA BOHČME later that year. He sang at the smaller houses throughout Italy and even went abroad to Cairo with a touring company, still singing the bass repertoire, including Mephistopheles in Gounod's FAUST. His La Scala début was in 1948 as Tirésias in Stravinsky's OEDIPUS REX. During these years, he began to wonder if he was truly a bass, and in 1951, he made his début as a baritone early in 1951 at the Bologna Opera as Germont in LA TRAVIATA. However, the performance was not especially successful, and he resumed intense studies over the next few months, giving special attention to developing his upper register. When he returned to the stage that summer, he had achieved just that goal, and his high notes were now considered his vocal glory. In 1953 Bastianini performed opposite Maria Callas for the first of many times, as Enrico Asthon in LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR at the Teatro Comunale Florence. That same year he sang the rôle of Carlo Gérard in Giordano's ANDREA CHÉNIER for the first time at the Teatro Regio di Torino. He made his Metropolitan Opera début as Germont on 5 December, 1953, opposite Licia Albanese as Violetta and Richard Tucker as Alfredo. The following January he sang Enrico to Lily Pons' Lucia and Jan Peerce's Edgardo at the Met. On 10 May, 1954, he made his début as a baritone at La Scala, in the title rôle of Tchaikovsky's EUGENE ONEGIN with Renata Tebaldi as Tatyana.
In the Fall of 1954, Bastianini joined the roster of the Metropolitan Opera where he sang regularly through May 1957. His rôles at the Met during this time included Amonasro, Carlo Gérard, Count di Luna, Enrico, Germont, Marcello in LA BOHČME, Rodrigo in Don Carlo, and the title rôle in RIGOLETTO. He later returned to the Met in the Spring of 1960 to portray several rôles including Don Carlo in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. He returned to the Met again in January 1965 where he spent most of that year singing in several of his prior rôles with the company, as well as performing Scarpia in TOSCA. His 87th and final performance at the Met was as Rodrigo on 11 December, 1965. It was also coincidentally the last performance of his career.
In 1956, he made his Chicago début as Riccardo in Bellini's I PURITANI. In 1962, he made his Covent Garden début as Renato in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA. Early in 1963, he left the stage for a few months, letting it be understood that he was resting, but in fact, he was undergoing treatment for throat cancer. His return performances and subsequent performances were poorly received, often with booing from the audience, as he was often hoarse, off-pitch, and under-powered. While he was deeply dismayed at this, he still did not speak of his illness; for all except family and close friends, it came as a complete surprise until after the announcement of his death. His last performance was in 1965 at the Metropolitan Opera.”
- Anne Feeney, allmusic.com
“Giuseppe di Stefano, a flamboyant, sometimes erratic opera star who in his prime after World War II was lauded as the most thrilling Italian tenor in a generation and was renowned for his superb voice, Mr. di Stefano had only brief years at the top, with a repertory that focused on lyric roles like the Duke in RIGOLETTO, the title role in FAUST and WERTHER. Rudolf Bing, the longtime general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, asserted that Mr. di Stefano could have been as great as Enrico Caruso if he had demonstrated more restraint in his personal and professional conduct. Mr. di Stefano conceded that he could be reckless. He reveled in his image as a bon vivant and bragged of his affairs, including a long romance with Maria Callas, his favorite onstage partner.
‘I wanted to enjoy life — not just the opera’, he said in an interview for OPERA NEWS in 1999, which took place at his villa north of Milan, on the edge of the lake district. ‘Yes, I smoked a lot. And it’s true I used to gamble, and I would stay up late and sometimes drive around all night. So of course the critics wrote: ‘He was not in shape to go on stage'.’ But Mr. di Stefano insisted that it was severe allergies that permanently damaged his voice.
With the onset of World War II, he served in the Italian army, assigned to an infirmary. But he was saved from duty on the Russian front by his regimental commander, an opera-loving doctor, who gave him a medical dispensation because he felt that the young man had a promising career ahead. Mr. di Stefano spent some of the war years as a pop singer, entertaining audiences at movie theaters between feature films. Then, in 1943, he fled to Switzerland, where he began his operatic career with recitals on a classical radio station in Zürich.
After the war, Mr. di Stefano made his opera début in Italy in 1946 at the Teatro Municipale, in the city of Reggio Emilia, as Des Grieux in Massenet’s MANON. He was quickly recognized as a rising star, praised for the rich, velvety texture of his voice and his great emphasis on diction. He was invited to sing at the major Italian opera houses. In 1948, Mr. di Stefano crossed the Atlantic to make his Metropolitan Opera début as the Duke in RIGOLETTO. But he received his greatest accolades for his performances as FAUST. Mr. Bing was awestruck by Mr. di Stefano’s interpretation of the role in the 1949-50 season. ‘The most spectacular single moment’, Mr. Bing wrote in his 1972 memoir, 5,000 NIGHTS AT THE OPERA, was ‘when I heard his diminuendo on the high C in ‘Salut! Demeure’ in FAUST. ‘I shall never as long as I live forget the beauty of that sound’.
But Mr. di Stefano’s behavior soon caused Mr. Bing to sour on him. When a new production of LA BOHÈME went into rehearsal at the Met in the 1952-53 season, Mr. di Stefano failed to show up in time, contending that illness had prevented him from traveling from Italy to New York. Mr. Bing learned that Mr. di Stefano had in fact been healthy enough to perform at La Scala in Milan, and banned him from the Met for three years.
On his return to New York, Mr. di Stefano expanded his repertory to include Don José in CARMEN and Cavaradossi in TOSCA. But Mr. Bing, in his memoir, complained that the tenor persisted in his erratic behavior. ‘We never knew from day to day whether he would show up’, he wrote, adding that ‘his lack of self-discipline soon harmed what might have been a career men would remember with Caruso’s’. By the late 1950s, Mr. di Stefano’s career was in decline, with his failing voice often forcing him to cancel appearances. He insisted that an allergy to synthetic fibers had inflamed his larynx. But the opera world remained skeptical. After a miserable 1966 performance as Otello in Pasadena, CA, Mr. di Stefano’s stage appearances dwindled. In 1973-74, he and Maria Callas made a disastrous tour of North America, Asia and Europe, with critics panning their performances. Mr. di Stefano, who first sang with Ms. Callas in the early 1950s and later became her lover, rated her as the best diva with whom he ever sang. ‘Even when Callas’ voice wasn’t perfect, she had so much interpretation’, he said. ‘Opera is storytelling. Feelings must be conveyed. Acting must be moving. And Callas had it all’.
Even in old age, Mr. di Stefano insisted that he had no regrets about his short career at opera’s summit, and that he did not begrudge the success of peers like Luciano Pavarotti or Plácido Domingo. ‘I was never jealous of anybody’, he said. ‘I don’t have to go around insisting that I had one of the great voices. Fortunately, I made enough recordings to let people judge for themselves’.”
- Jonathan Kandell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 4 March, 2008