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Humans of Drake: Stefano Vignati


Highlighting the stories of Drake students and faculty


When conductor Stefano Vignati was just seven years old, he found a sort of wonder in music. This wonder now dictates his entire life.

“No one in my family was involved in music or art,” Vignati said. “It’s natural, it’s an instinct. I started classical music by myself. I just heard recordings, and I was in love with Mozart’s music. There was a very old piano in my grandma’s house … I went there every day to play when I was really young.”

Born and raised in the outskirts of Rome, Italy, he studied Greek, Latin and Italian literature and music—the “classics,” as he says. He spent decades in Italian formal schooling for piano and conducting, frequently attending international master classes in places all over the globe.

He also acquired a master’s degree in conducting from the University of Denver, and after being back and forth between America and Europe for around 20 years, he finally decided to settle himself here. This decision was partly induced by a job offer from Drake.

Vignati describes Des Moines as quiet and easy, which serves as quite a relief for him after many hectic years of travelling. The only thing he misses from previous homes, like coastal Italy and Santa Monica, California, is the sea. But now, he finds plenty of time to focus on his family.

Perhaps the biggest recent development in Vignati’s life was the adoption of his son, Jayden, who was born on Christmas Eve and whom Vignati describes as his “Christmas gift.”

“I always wanted to adopt a child,” Vignati said. “But in Italy, it’s pretty impossible. It’s so difficult … It was the first thing that I did when I arrived here, when I bought my house, when I got my position here. I started more than two years ago with the process.”

Though Vignati sacrifices some of his professional career when he’s teaching, he leaves his summers open for travel and professional development. He’s dedicated to his career as a conductor, but he finds ultimate value in passing his skills onto his students.

“One of my goals was to dedicate my life to students, to young generations of musicians and singers,” Vignati said. “So that’s why I’m happy here.”

He hopes to use his international connections and friendships to help bolster the careers of the Drake students he works with.

He also credits his ability to mentor to his cultural tongue.

“Since I’m Italian, and 90 percent of opera is in the Italian language, I can coach easily,” Vignati said.

Vignati also teaches beginning Italian in the World Languages and Cultures Department.

When he’s not mentoring students or looking after his new baby, Vignati—seemingly a true “Renaissance man”—likes to paint. Painting was his “first skill,” he says, and his favorite style is portraits.

He also has a cello in its case sitting stoically in the corner of his office, but he hasn’t yet learned how to play it.

“I bring this cello with me everywhere I go, I think 15 years,” he said with a laugh. “I (still) have to find the moment to start.”

This will be Vignati’s fourth year conducting the year-end production of the Drake Opera Theatre, an event he looks forward to with great anticipation.

“I think the potential of this university is big, so big,” Vignati said. “But it’s not completely expressed still. I think this opera department could be really great, and I want to be a part of this. I want to help this grow. That’s (what’s) most important for me.”

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