Giuseppe di Stefano began to study voice as he trained for the priesthood in a Jesuit seminary in Milan; his teachers included Luigi Montesanto and Mariano Stabile. Mobilized into the Fascist army at the age of 19, di Stefano helped make ends meet by singing popular music under the pseudonym of "Nino Florio". Deciding he'd had enough of service under Mussolini, di Stefano deserted to neutral Switzerland in 1943. Though di Stefano was interned as a refugee, he made his way singing on Swiss radio broadcasts, succeeding in building a small following. At war's end, he returned to Italy and began his singing career in earnest, debuting as Chevalier des Grieux in Massenet's Manon at a performance held in Reggio Emilia on April 20, 1946.