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Stignani initially studied piano at the San Pietro di Maiella Conservatory in Naples as well as singing with Agostino Roche. He advised her against exploiting her easy upper register in order to become a soprano. During the five years she spent as his pupil she studied solfège, developed her vocal technique through singing scales and technical exercises, and prepared both the operatic and choral literature. Her operatic stage debut came in 1925 as Amneris / Aida at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples.

During the following year Stignani sang in Venice and, after auditioning for Toscanini, was given a contract by La Scala, Milan, making her debut in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 ‘Choral’ with Toscanini conducting. Shortly afterwards she appeared as Eboli / Don Carlo and gradually became the principal dramatic mezzo-soprano at La Scala, a status she maintained until the mid-1950s. Working under conductors of high calibre such as Victor De Sabata, she sang in the Italian and German (then given in Italian) repertoires, making her mark in both. Her Italian roles included Ulrica / Un ballo in maschera, Azucena / Il trovatore, Preziosilla / La forza del destino, Adalgisa / Norma, Fidalma / Il matrimonio segreto, Orfeo / Orfeo ed Euridice and Leonora / La favorita; while among her German parts were Brangäne / Tristan und Isolde and Ortrud / Lohengrin. Other key roles included the title part in Carmen, Dalila / Samson et Dalila and Marina / Boris Godunov. At the Florence Maggio Musicale, with its emphasis upon disinterring forgotten works, she sang Fenena / Nabucco and the High Priestess / La vestale (Spontini) in 1933 and Arsace / Semiramide (Rossini) in 1940.

The first of Stignani’s many appearances in South America came in 1927, singing at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires and the Teatro Municipal, São Paulo. Her debut at the Royal Opera House, London, took place during the Coronation season of 1937 when she sang Amneris; she returned in 1939, 1952 and 1957, singing opposite Maria Callas’s Norma on the last two occasions. Her American appearances were limited: she sang with the San Francisco Opera in 1938 and 1948, but a contract to appear with the Metropolitan Opera in 1939 was unfulfilled because of the outbreak of World War II.

Despite an extremely successful Carnegie Hall recital in 1948, no further advances from the Met were forthcoming and Stignani’s final American appearances were with the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1955, singing Azucena alongside Callas and Jussi Björling. She gave her farewell performances in the same role at the Drury Lane Theatre, London and in Dublin in 1958. She subsequently retired to Imola, living in seclusion.

The finest Italian mezzo-soprano of her generation, Stignani was the possessor of a voice and technique of high quality who could in addition bring great intensity and thrust to her dramatic roles, as well as a poignant lyricism to reflective parts. Although not a strong actress, she could hold the stage with dignity. As she herself said to Lanfranco Rasponi, ‘I am Stignani because of my voice.’

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).

Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
A TO Z OF SINGERS Naxos Educational
BELLINI: Norma (Callas, Filippeschi) (1953) Naxos Historical
MOZART: Requiem in D Minor (Tassinari, Tagliavini, De Sabata) (1941) Naxos Historical
Choral - Sacred
PONCHIELLI: Gioconda (La) (La Scala) (1931) Naxos Historical
SPONTINI, G.: Vestale (La) [Opera] (Sung in Italian) (Callas, Milan La Scala Chorus and Orchestra, Votto) (1954) La Scala Memories
VERDI, G.: Messa da Requiem (Gigli, Rome Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Serafin) (1939) Naxos Historical
Choral - Sacred
VERDI: Aida (Caniglia, Gigli) (1946) Naxos Historical
VERDI: Aida (Tebaldi, del Monaco) (1952) Naxos Historical

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