In 2002 a young woman stepped up to the podium of the oldest and one of the most beautiful Opera Houses in Europe, the San Carlo Theater. Certainly, a hushed silence must have washed over the crowd as they waited for her arm to raise, the music to begin. Surely, it must have been so quiet one could hear a pin drop as a Neapolitan woman took center stage in the universally male dominated field of orchestral conducting.

Directing William Walton’s Facade for her debut performance at the San Carlo followed by a series of concerts dedicated to Mozart, it was a first for her city, her theater, and for her.

Just two years later, Maestra Stefania Rinaldi returned to the San Carlo taking her place in front of another group of talented musicians. One of the founders of the theater’s Children’s Choir, the Coro di Voci Bianche del Teatro di San Carlo, Stefania has been its faithful director since its inception in 2004.

Surrounded by her young charges, one need only look at Stefania to see her passion. In a word, she simply glows. The love and dedication she has for her music, her vocation and the children she teaches and mentors each year is written all over her face.

Stefania Rinaldi and the Children’s Choir of the San Carlo Theater, Photo Courtesy of Teatro San Carlo, Napoli, Italia

Every year, 120 children aged 7-17 from all over the Province of Naples, from every social strata and ethnicity, come to work with Stefania and to perform at the San Carlo. Together, they create one harmonious voice.

Their journey begins with the audition. The song, Happy Birthday. Or in this case, Tanti Auguri a te. It is, Stefania explained, one of the most useful tools in assessing a child’s vocal capacity. But what Stefania is most looking for in her prospective students is a passion that matches her own. And that’s why each year, Stefania is just as likely to select a child whose technical skills lag their enthusiasm as she is to select the next diva in traning.

I can teach a child to sing, to use proper vocal techniques. But what I can’t teach is a passion for the music. That is just something that comes naturally from within.

That passion breeds energy, and as a conductor on stage Stefania explains, there is a symbiotic nature to the performance. From the eager eyes looking towards her, to the audience behind her and back again, she becomes the conduit through which the energy of the music flows, feeds and grows.

As a teacher, her relationship to her students is as equally symbiotic.

I am their role model and they look up to me, but I learn just as much from them as they do from me.

Whatever her formula for success, it is evident at every performance. This year that included taking center stage for two Christmas performances, Concerto di Natale and Aspettando… La Befana and performances in Inni d’Europa with San Carlo’s School of Ballet and Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohéme. On June 19th the choir will perform in Brindisi in honor of Melissa Bassi, the 16 year old girl who was killed by a school bombing there in May of this year.

Part of the choir’s repertoire also includes Neapolitan music. In 2008 they performed at the Rai Auditorium in the live recital of “Era” di Maggio, Roberto de Simone’s tribute to traditional Canzone Napoletana.

Over the past eight years, Stefania’s journey with the Children’s Choir has taken them all over the region. Her own journey has taken her around the world and back home again. A classical pianist by training, by age 14, Stefania knew she was destined to be a conductor.

A graduate of the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, she continued her studies at the National Academy of Santa Cecilia and at the Musical Academy Chigiana in Siena and went on to achieve numerous awards and accolades.

She is also the founder and director of an all female orchestra, the Alma Mahler Sinfonietta that is dedicated to performing music written and performed by women such as Alma Schindler Mahler, Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn. In 2005, they released the CD Clara Schumann: Piano Concerto; Piano Trio

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The Alma Mahler Sinfonietta, an ensemble for women musicians under Stefania Rinaldi, recalls in its name Alma Mahler, the wife of Gustav Mahler, a woman of intelligence, beauty and talent, and has the aim of promoting the music of women composers, breaking the apparent conspiracy of silence in this respect.

Stefania’s curriculum vitae rivals that of any of her male contemporaries and there is no doubt, the sky is the limit for this talented and dedicated musician and conductor. I could easily see Stefania standing at the podium of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, the Royal Opera House in London, La Scala in Milan, or a return engagement at the San Carlo.

But at the same time, as prestigious as those postings might be, perhaps Stefania’s greatest legacy will be the profound impact she has on the 120 children she guides and inspires each year. Exposing children from all walks of life to this important part of their cultural heritage, imparting on them a love and appreciation for the theater, opera, classical music, and Neapolitan Canzone. Perhaps, there is no greater achievement than that.