Ebe Stignani (July 10, 1903 – October 5, 1974) was an Italian opera singer, who was pre-eminent in the dramatic mezzo-soprano roles of the Italian repertoire during a stage career of more than thirty years. She was born in Naples in 1903, and she studied music for five years at the San Pietro a Majella Conservatory in Naples.
Stignani became a paragon of twentieth-century singers in her vocal range (from low F to high C) and in her power and musicianship. Although she herself admitted to be being no actress, her stage appearances carried dramatic force through her singing alone. Her career was born in an age of great mezzos and extended into the prime years of Giulietta Simionato and Fedora Barbieri.
There is debate, even today, as to whether Signani was a soprano or a mezzo. She certainly was well known for singing mezzo roles, and she could sing soprano roles also. I think that what makes the most sense is that she was a mezzo with an extension who preserved her voice during her 30-year career by not singing roles that were wrong for her voice. If this kept her primarily in the mezzo repertory, so be it. A case could be made that she was really “zwischen” (“between” in German), but I don’t believe that it matters. She knew her voice, and stayed with roles that would be healthy for her to sing.
O don fatale
O don fatale, o don crudel
che in suo furor mi fece il ciel!
Tu che ci fai sì vane, altere,
ti maledico, ti maledico,o mia beltà!
Versar, versar sol posso il pianto,
speme non ho, soffrir dovrò!
Il mio delitto è orribil tanto
che cancellar mai nol potrò!
Ti maledico,ti maledico o mia beltà,
O mia Regina, io t’immolai
al folle error di questo cor.
Solo in un chiostro al mondo omai
dovrò celar il mio dolor!
Ohimè! Ohimè! O mia Regina,
Oh ciel! E Carlo! a morte domani,
gran Dio! a morte andar vedrò!
Ah, un dì mi resta,
la speme mi arride,
sia benedetto il ciel! Lo salverò!
Un dì mi resta, ah, sia benedetto
il ciel! Ah! lo salverò!
O terrible gift
O terrible gift, o cruel gift
that an irate heaven made me!
You make us so vain and proud,
I curse you, I curse you, o beauty!
I can only shed my tears
I’ve no hope,I can only suffer!
My crime is so horrible
that it will never fade!
I curse you, I curse you, o beauty,
O my Queen, I sacrificed you
to the crazed passion of my heart.
Only in a cloister
I can now hide my suffering from the world!
Alas! Alas! O my Queen,
O God! Carlos! tomorrow he will die,
O great God! Tomorrow I’ll see him die!
Ah! I’ve one day more,
ah, there is hope, ah,
Heaven be blessed! I’ll save him!
One more day, ah, Heaven be blessed!
I’ll save him!
Inneggiamo, il signor non è morto .
Santuzza, Lucia e Coro esterno
Il Signor non è morto,
Ha dischiuso l’avel,
Al Signore risorto
Alla gloria del Ciel!
We offer praise, the Lord is not dead
Santuzza, Lucia and chorus off-stage
Let us offer praise,
the Lord is not dead!
And in shining glory
the tomb has opened.
Let us praise
the risen lord,
to the glory of Heaven!
Mezzo-Soprano Solo and Chorus
Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur.
Judex ergo, cum sedebit,
quidquid latet, apparebit,
nil inultum remanebit.
Dies irae, dies illa,
solvet saeclum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.
A written book
Mezzo-soprano Solo and Chorus
A written book will be brought forth,
in which everything shall be contained,
by which the world shall be judged.
When the judge is therefore seated,
whatever is hidden will be exposed;
nothing shall remain unavenged.
Day of wrath, that day
the world will dissolve in ashes,
as witness David and the Sibyl.
Che farò senza Euridice,
Che farò senza Euridice
Dove andrò senza il mio ben.
Euridice, o Dio, risponde
Io son pure il tuo fedele.
Euridice! Ah, non m´avvanza Euridice!
più socorso, più speranza
ne dal mondo, ne dal ciel.
Orfeo’s aria from Orfeo ed Euridice (What shall I do without Euridice?)
What will I do without Euridice
Where will I go without my beloved.
Euridice, oh God, answer
I am entirely loyal to you.
Ah, it does not give me
any help, any hope
neither this world, neither heaven.
Born July 10, 1903 – Died October 5, 1974
Signani began studying the piano at the Conservatory of San Pietro di Maiella in her native Naples. Stignani soon took courses in vocal training under Agostino Roche, who cautioned her not to exploit her facile top register by becoming a soprano. During her five years with Roche, she worked on solfeggio and scales, even as she studied harmony and both the choral and the operatic literature.
Stignani’s debut took place at the San Carlo in Naples in 1925, when she took on the dramatic role of Amneris in Verdi’s Aida. Called upon by Arturo Toscanini for an audition, she found herself with a contract for La Scala and began her long career there with La Gioconda, Götterdämmerung, and Weber’s Der Freischütz (in the brief, but uncompromisingly soprano role of Aennchen). Soon, she was singing under the finest conductors of the time: Ghione, Gui, Guarnieri, Marinuzzi, Panizza, and Serafin. Given the size and thrust of her voice, she was assigned a great deal of Wagner, each role sung in her native language, as was the custom of the time in Italy. Likewise, she came to make the big Verdi roles her own — Ulrica, Azucena, Preziosilla, and Eboli in Don Carlo. In the latter, she was a last-minute substitute for the revered Giuseppina Cobelli and, despite her usually placid nature, found the experience of taking over for a singer so esteemed by the Scala audience a nerve-wracking one. Stignani triumphed, and found the demanding role becoming one of her two mainstay parts, the other being Leonora in Donizetti’s La favorita.
Beyond the Verdi/Wagner literature, Stignani embraced Fidalma in Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto, Carmen, Adalgisa in Bellini’s Norma, Marina in Boris Godunov, Dalila, and the role she loved above all others, Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. Elsewhere in Italy, her roles at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino were the High Priestess in Spontini’s La vestale and Fenena in Nabucco in 1933. By 1940, she was engaged for the more important role of Arsace in Rossini’s Semiramide. Meanwhile, other opera houses outside of Italy summoned her for a variety of works. She sang in London beginning in 1937, when she debuted as Amneris, and continuing periodically until her Adalgisa opposite Callas in 1952 and 1957, the year before her retirement. The United States heard her in opera only, at San Francisco (1938 and 1948) and in Chicago (1955), where her appearances included a memorable Il trovatore with Callas and Björling. A rapturously received recital at Carnegie Hall in 1948 failed to produce another offer from the Metropolitan Opera (a 1939 contract was voided by the outbreak of WWII), but she sang with success in South America as well as throughout Europe.