Stabile was born into a distinguished Italian family: his grandfather had been a mayor of Palermo and his uncle a strong proponent of a united Italy. His family did not support his decision to study singing at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome, where he was a pupil of the internationally renowned baritone, Antonio Cotogni. He made his operatic stage debut in 1909 as Marcello / La Bohème at the Teatro Biondo, Palermo where he also sang Amonasro / Aida.
By the outbreak of World War I Stabile had gained significant success both in Italy and abroad, appearing in St Petersburg in 1911, Buenos Aires in 1913 and Barcelona in 1914. He was particularly praised for his performance of Alfonso / La favorita at the Teatro Costanzi, Rome and was given an extended contract by the two directors of this theatre, Walter Mocchi and Emma Carelli. Later roles there included Klingsor / Parsifal—the only other Wagnerian part he was to sing was Beckmesser / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg—and in 1913 he participated in the first performance of Domenico Monleone’s opera L’arabesca. His introduction to Milan took place when he sang Lescaut / Manon Lescaut in a production at the Teatro del Verme starring Claudia Muzio and Giovanni Martinelli.
Stabile made his debut at the Paris Opera in 1917 as Amonasro and achieved further international fame when Toscanini asked him to sing the title part in Falstaff at La Scala, Milan for the opening of the 1921–1922 season. Stabile prepared intensively for this with Ferrucio Calusio, Giuseppe de Luca and Toscanini himself, so that when he arrived for the first rehearsals his realisation of the part was fully formed. He went on to sing an estimated 1,200 performances as Falstaff. He appeared at La Scala often: his parts there included Gérard / Andrea Chénier, Scarpia / Tosca, Iago / Otello, Malatesta / Don Pasquale, Dulcamara / L’elisir d’amore, Beckmesser and the title roles in Gianni Schicchi and Belfagor (Respighi, premiere 1923).
Between 1924 and 1929 Stabile sang with the Chicago Opera and from 1926 to 1931 appeared regularly in the international seasons at the Royal Opera House, London as Falstaff, Iago, Scarpia, Schicchi and in the title role of Don Giovanni. He made his debut at the Salzburg Festival in 1931, singing Figaro / Il barbiere di Siviglia and the title role of Don Pasquale. He returned to sing Falstaff at Salzburg annually between 1935 and 1939, plus Don Giovanni (1936), the Count / Le nozze di Figaro (1937) and the Rossini Figaro again (1939). He appeared at the newly created Glyndebourne Festival Opera between 1936 and 1939 as Figaro / Le nozze di Figaro, Don Alfonso / Così fan tutte and Malatesta. During World War II Stabile took part in the premiere of Mario Persico’s opera La locandiera at the Rome Opera.
With the advent of peace he returned to London frequently between 1946 and 1949 to sing at the Cambridge and Stoll Theatres with Jay Pomeroy’s New Opera Company, under the direction of Dino Borgioli and Alberto Erede. He re-joined the Glyndebourne Company when it appeared at the 1948 Edinburgh Festival to sing Don Alfonso and continued to be a presence at La Scala, in 1955 singing Prosdocimo / Il turco in Italia opposite Maria Callas. As late as 1958 he sang Schicchi at La Fenice, Venice, officially retiring in 1961 after a performance of Falstaff in Siena.
Although Stabile’s voice was not exceptional, he possessed extraordinary histrionic powers, characterized by superb enunciation, great dramatic vitality and a vivid command of gesture, all of which suited comic roles, such as Falstaff, especially well.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).
Role: Classical Artist