Metropolitan Opera Debut, February 25, 1948

Review of Virgil Thomson in the Herald Tribune

A Promising Tenor

Giuseppe Di Stefano, twenty-seven year old tenor, making his debut last night with the Metropolitan Opera Association as the Duke in Verdi's Rigoletto, revealed the makings of a valuable operatic artist. Being Italian, he was applauded for more than that, of course. And though a part of the applause was certainly the work of an engaged clacque, there was enough left over, and all round the house, to make it clear that the boy was having a real success.

His musical merits have mostly to do with style, for the voice, though neither small nor ugly, is not an organ of great beauty. Some correction of faulty placement would no doubt embellish it and would certainly enlarge its range, which is skimpy at both top and bottom. But he has an impeccable enunciation, and he projects a phrase with style and authority. Also his personality is fresh and genuine. He is interesting on a stage in a way not wholly explicable by the mere fact that he is young and, as tenors go, personable. He can carry a show now musically and personally. With more study, for his faults are not grave, he could, I think, carry one vocally. He has charm and theatrical sense, as well as musical instinct. Given. technical perfection, he could be a fine artist.

Carmen Gracia, who sang Glida, is farther away from technical perfection that Mr. Di Stefano. Her natural resources of voice are first-class; she has a pretty colorature voice of good range and agreeable quality. But she gravely needs study and placement. She is not mistress of her instrument, and the essaying of major roles in a big house can only do her voice harm at present. I think she has possibilities of real excellence, but she is not ready for stardom. Only by moments is her singing either beautiful or assured.

The opera was well sung as a whole, with Leonard Warren, Cloe Elmo, Mihaly Szekeley, Osie Hawkins, Maxine Stellman, Evelyn Sachs and Thelma Altman providing solid vocal beauty throughout. Pietro Cimara, who conducted, could have added more dramatic excitement to the score than he did, if he had paced it all more firmly. But the evening was a pleasant one and the house noisy with approval. I do hope that Mr. Di Stefano does not mistake the warmth of his reception for evidence that his art is without blemish. He is too young and, for all his advantages, too far from being full master of these to rest on one evening's precarious laurels.

Review of Howard Taubman in the New York Times


Italian Tenor Sings Role of Duke at Metropolitan – Elmo Appears as Maddalena

The Metropolitan Opera wasted no time in putting its latest tenor find on the stage. Less than a week ago Giuseppe Di Stefano arrived from Milan in Italy, and last night he made his debut at the Opera House as the Duke in Rigoletto. Discounting the furor created by the claque, there is no doubt that the young man scored in a big way with the average customer.

Mr. Di Stefano has a lyric voice of natural beauty. It is probably the purest and freshest Italian tenor in the company. Since he is only 26, he has the power of youth and he pours out his tones with prodigality.

But he is a long way from being a big artist, and in view of the adulation that is sure to come his way after his debut, he might follow the path of least resistance and keep singing as he does now. His singing now has little sense of style, refinement or real musicianship. It is projection of a well-placed, well-schooled voice of rich, golden quality. The mere sound of such a voice is such a guerdon to the operagoer that Mr. Di Stefano's success is assured even if he makes no further progress.

But his singing indicated eagerness and vitality, and his clear enunciation of the Italian words was proof that he had a cultivated background. Now he needs to purify his singing, to abjure excesses, to learn to mold phrases with nuance and to develop an acting style. This is no mean assignment, but if he learns as he works, he can be a great tenor.

Mr. Di Stefano cuts a handsome figure on the stage. He has been singing in opera in Italy only for a couple of seasons, and he is not yet saturated in stale routine. He has everything in his favor. Let us keep our fingers crossed.

The rest of the cast was largely familiar. Cloe Elmo, however, sang her first Maddalena and turned that baggage into a creature of wild and earthy impulse. Leonard Warren's Rigoletto was not only his best of the season but the best of any one in many seasons. Carmen Gracia was the gracious Gilda. Mihaly Szekely made an ominous Sparafucile, and Osie Hawkins gave force to Monterone. Pietro Cimara conducted.

Review of Douglas Watt in the Daily News


With the current opera season approaching its final two weeks, the Met last night unleashed another new singer - a tenor named Giuseppe Di Stefano—in the role of the Duke in Rigoletto and also had two other singers in new parts.

Di Stefano had the gallery and the standees knocking themselves out for him almost before he had uttered a sound. Responding excitedly to his ringing high tones, they kept it up for the rest of the show and on the heels of one such demonstration an exceptionally emotional standee either yelled something complimentary to him in Italian or else said fervently "You're an angel!" That's what it sounded like to me, anyway, thought it hardly seemed reasonable.

Di Stefano has a strong voice but a regrettable habit of waiting only for those long, high notes and then holding onto them for dear life until you feel that time is standing still. He lacks a certain amount of taste, but I suppose most singers and most audiences are willing to sacrifice finesse for knockout blows in a work such as Rigoletto.

A New Gilda.

Carmen Garcia was singing her first Gilda here and the Met's new Spanish coloratura was something of a problem, too. Despite a pleasing stage presence and a naturally sweet voice, she seemed never to be sure of her volume, with the result that her singing was somewhat erratic. She got a big hand, too.

Cloe Elmo took the brief role of Maddalena for the first time here and although it doesn't call for much more than plausible participation in the famous quartet, her personal magnetism – both vocal and physical—added considerable color to the closing act.

Leonard Warren sang evenly and with his usual admirable power and control in the title role. Osie Hawkins made an impressive Monterone and Mihaly Szekely was the Sparafucile of the evening. Pietro Cimara conducted.

Not exactly a good show. Lots of loud singing but not enough artistry.

Review of Irving Kolodin in the Sun

A young colt of a tenor named Giuseppe Di Stefano joined the Metropolitan last night to sing a lively, well-phrased Duke in Verdi's Rigoletto. Not quite broken to the musical saddle, the visitor from Italy gave Conductor Pietro Cimara a number of bad moments with his false entrances and telescoped measures; but all the time he sang in a light liquid voice that was charming to hear.

Some might also say that he was charming to see, if that is the way a tenor strikes you; he is a dapper young fellow, with a stage personality that is frank, open and rather boyish. He also acted something quite well last night, though one did not always agree that it was Piave's Duke.

Vocally, the voice is more notable for suavity than power, and it was quite lost in the ensemble of the end of act I. However, in his solos and duets, it floated well, with a fine uniform timbre and no lack of solid top. What attracted this listener most, however, was that Di Stefano really sings his music, neither declaiming nor slurring it; there was always line and, in things like “Parmi veder," a curve of melodic feeling that inspired the overflow audience to a real demonstration. "Donna e Mobile," not as well sung, had an even greater success.

If he can keep his self-esteem in check and master a few parts suitable to his present style, Di Stefano could grow old, rich and voiceless right here.

The immediate future of Carmen Gracia, whose Gilda was her second role -locally, is hardly as bright. She, too, often went her own way with the conductor in pursuit, but Miss Gracia seems to be the type of singer who only does difficult music well. Give her a tricky pattern and she will sing it cleanly enough, with a bright pinpoint of sound. However, she is not able to control her tones in legato or dramatic passages; there is little sweetness or firm quality in the voice as it is presently being used and, her approach to characterization has the intensity of “Oh, dear me.” “Caro nome,” with a concluding E flat, was about the best thing she did, and that was but fair. She looked well and dressed the part expensively, but Miss Gracia hasn’t yet demonstrated why she has been assigned to sing Rosina and Gilda at the Metropolitan.

Aside from Chloe Elmo, who appeared briefly and effectively as Maddalena, the cast was otherwise a familiar one, with Leonard Warren’s opulently sung, capably acted Rigoletto as its strongest element. Here is a singer who has almost but not quite drawn abreast, artistically, of the potent force he carries in his throat. One hopes he does before the trend goes in the other direction. Mihay Szekely was an impressive Sparafucile, Osie Hawkins a strong voice Monterone. Conductor Cimara, who did enough stick-waving for two opera, was entitled to a boy he didn’t get.

Review of Miles Kastendieck in the New York

Another top-flight Italian tenor stepped into the Metropolitan ranks last night. Guiseppe di Stefano earned the rousing welcome he received in his debut as the Duke in Rigoletto.

He has the voice and the good looks to make him a “matinee idol." The golden" quality is there and the notes come out clear and true. His style is too Italianate for the standard of musicianship demanded here, for he indulged in ringing notes and toyed with the music for vocal effects. Nevertheless, he looks to be an important operatic highlight from the start.

The vocal standards of the whole performance were high. Leonard Warren sang the title role in fine form, Carmen Gracia revealed the potentialities of a fine voice even though her delivery is somewhat variable, Her Gilda has its good points, but her performance holds more promise than of accomplishment at the moment.

Mihaly Szekely as Sparafucile, Cloe Elmo as Maddalena, and Osie Hawkins as Monterone sustained the quality of the principals. Pietro Cimara conducted a lusty performance, a little too exuberant for the singers. Some changes in staging still left problems of staging direction.

Review of Robert Bagar in the World Telegram


A youthful Italian tenor, Giuseppe Di Stefano by name, sang generally in a pleasing manner last evening at the Metropolitan as the Duke in Verdi's perennial Rigoletto. Mr. Di Stefano, said to be a mere 26, was making his American debut, and, like all debuts to date by Italians recently from Italy, it was attended by a most enthusiastic, as well as organized—not to say regimented—claque.

After hearing Mr. Di Stefano through the four acts of this opera I got the impression that here was an excellent talent, which needs — even before more stage experience—some polishing of his vocal machinery, a better, more, secure placement of the voice, so that it does not require forcing to get out tones in forte.

Makes Ardent Love.

He is a personable young man who seems quite poised on the stage. He even makes love, as in the last act, right, ardently. And that, I remember with some amusement, included embracing Cloe Elmo's Maddeldna with more manual than tonal accuracy at one or two places. La Elmo, no prude she, engaged playfully in the joust, but up to a certain point.

Anyway, Mr. Di Stefano's gifts are natural ones; he is a first-rate musician, he sings generally in good taste and he projects himself into the role—at least he did last night. Although hi voice was breathy and sometimes unresonant, he often delivered lines of pure bel canto that had the initiates in ecstasies – loud and long ones.

Carmen Gracia Hailed.

Alongside Mr. Di Stefano was another good-looking artist, young Carmen Gracia, who appeared as Gilda. Beautifully gowned and very graceful, Miss Gracia sang pleasingly, though she wanted, I think more vitality. Her “Caro nome” was handsomely intoned. It was a whole piece and not a handful of pretty phrases, and the audience gave her an ovation after it. Here too is a singer of unusual attractions, both physical and vocal, who is in need of further refinement and experience.

The Jester of Leonard Warren was sumptuously sing and quite convincing dramatically. Mme. Elmo afforded no end of pleasure in her brief role of the coquettish Maddalena. Mihay Szekely, Evelyn Sachs, Osie Hawkins, George Cehanovsky, Alessio De Paolis, John Baker, Maxine Stellman and Thelma Altman were the others, all more or less in the picture.

Pietro Cimara conducted, but not always with spirit. He permitted Mr. Di Stefano (once) and Miss Gracia (twice) to fall out of rhythm. The chorus was vocally good.

Review of Quaintance Eaton in Musical America
of March 15, 1948

The walls bulged and the ceiling resounded when Giuseppe Di Stefano, 26-year-old tenor from Milan, made his debut as the Duke in the fourth Rigoletto. Rejoicing behind the rails was at fever heat and though it was not exactly prejudicial to the success of the newcomer, it still was enough of an irritant to disturb many. In other words, what seemed to be a claque was a real nuisance, and, in view of the disposition of the majority to like the tenor, an unnecessary one. The outbursts which greeted his tentative beginning grew wilder and wilder until there were “bravos” even in the midst of arias and one shout, “Boy, you’re a natural,” which nearly upset the lad, already in an agony of nervousness. His recovery was swift, however, and his assurance grew as the evening waned.

Some of this generous applause spilled over for the new Gilda, the personable Carmen Gracia, whose black-haired beauty and lithe grace did not quite compensate for vocal limitations. There were also demonstrations for the boisterous and earthy Maddalena, sung for the first time by Cloe Elmo; for the lusty outpourings of Leonard Warren's Rigoletto, and for the truly distinguished and evil Sparafucile of Mihail Szekely. But it was natural that the darling of the mob was the young hero.

Soberer customers had reasons to approve him as well. Mr. Di Stefano's voice is clear, manly and fluent. It has some sweetness in the middle range and in moderate, or soft, passages, and if he does not yield to an inclination to force on attacking higher notes, his top voice should open up and really ring. He is free from too much portamento and turns a phrase neatly, so that there is hope for musicality, although he was tempted into holding final high notes too long. His rhythmic sense improved after some false starts and stumbling in “Questa o quella,” from which Pietro Cimara saved him by adroit conducting. His best singing came in the third act, when “Parmi veder le lagrime” was movingly and ringingly delivered. He also showed a feeling for florid style in “La donna e mobile” and was secure in the quartet.

Almost painful shyness made for stiff and decidedly amateurish acting, but a feeling for the stage is obviously present and it is to be hoped that he can learn. With any sort of artistic humility, so that he is not spoiled by too much adulation too early and not led astray by the antics of the claque, the youth should be a fine lyric tenor-actor and a distinct addition to the American stage.

Giuseppe Di Stefano as the Duke
in Rigoletto.
Photograph by Louis Mélançon.

The Met's General Manager,
Edward Johnson,congratulating
Giuseppe Di Stefano backstage
at his debut in Rigoletto.
Photograph by Louis Mélançon.