A baritone whose voice could not match in splendor the many Tuscan baritones of his day, Mariano Stabile became a master stylist, using his slender instrument to create a portrait gallery of unforgettable characters. As his instrument aged, it took on a noticeable wobble in the upper register, but Stabile was able to work around that liability to continue weaving his magic into each performance. His mastery was such that the leading conductors and stage directors of his time continued to call upon him, even in advanced age.
Stabile was born into one of Sicily's most-respected families; the street in central Palermo bearing the name Mariano Stabile was, in fact, to honor the singer's uncle, one of those who strove to create the Italian nation. Following beginning lessons in Palermo, the baritone journeyed to Rome to study at the Accademia Santa Cecilia with Antonio Cotogni, teacher of Gigli and Lauri-Volpi. From Cotogni, Stabile learned to avoid forcing and avoid dramatic roles for which his voice was not suited. Although he made his debut as Marcello at the Teatro Biondo in Palermo, his first great success took place at Rome as Alphonso in La favorita. Theater co-directors Walter Mocchi and Emma Carelli offered the young baritone an extended contract and thereafter, Stabile sang leading roles in Rome and in other important venues. When Parsifal was performed for the first time in Italy, Stabile was the Klingsor. He wisely avoided other Wagner baritone roles, save for Beckmesser, which became another of his vivid portraits. Stabile was introduced to the public in Milan in a Teatro dal Verme production of Manon Lescaut featuring Claudia Muzio and Giovanni Martinelli. Toscanini requested that he undertake the title role in Falstaff for the opening of the 1921 La Scala season, despite his having previously sung only Ford. After careful preparation with Ferruccio Calusio, Stabile arrived at rehearsals with his musical and histrionic approach to the character already fully in place. The success of the December 26 performance thrust Stabile into the international spotlight. That was merely the beginning of many collaborations with Toscanini, most notably in Otello and Tosca and embracing a series of Falstaffs at the Salzburg Festival in the 1930s (he sang at the festival from 1931 to 1939). Stabile's career at La Scala lasted until 1955 and included such other roles as Don Giovanni, Gérard, Dulcamara, Malatesta, and Prosdocimo in Rossini's Il turco in Italia (the last-named production with Maria Callas was recorded in 1954). In 1923, he was called upon to create the title role in Respighi's Belfagor. Elsewhere, he was introduced to London audiences in 1926 when he sang Iago to Giovanni Zenatello's Otello and Don Giovanni with such luminaries as Frida Leider, Lotte Lehmann, and Elisabeth Schumann, and capped his series of subtle and well-judged performances with his "classic" Falstaff. Stabile remained a favorite of English audiences and critics, singing five more years at Covent Garden and returning to the United Kingdom after WWII for performances during the Pomeroy seasons at the Cambridge and Stoll theaters between 1946 and 1949. Stabile also sang to acclaim in Paris, his Don Giovanni in 1928 causing near pandemonium. Stabile officially retired in 1961 after a performance of Falstaff at Siena. Among Stabile's many recordings, a 1952 Falstaff recorded at La Scala demonstrates the singer's way with the role, even at so late a stage.