CESARE SIEPE, Bass * 10 February 1923, Milan, Italy + 5 July 2010, Atlanta, Georgia, United States;

05 Jul

Opera Singer. A bass who sang much of the repertoire of his range, he shall be remembered as perhaps his generation’s foremost interpreter of the title role in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. Raised in Milan, his vocal technique was essentially self taught, though he spent some time in a local conservatory before making his 1941 professional debut at Schio, Italy, as the hired killer Sparafucile from Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto”. Siepi fled to Switzerland during World War II to avoid fighting for Mussolini, then thru the late 1940s was a regular at La Scala Milano where he refined his signature pieces, “Don Giovanni”, Mephistopheles in Charles Gounod’s “Faust”, Don Basilio in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”, and King Philip II from Verdi’s “Don Carlo”. His debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where he eventually sang 379 times in 18 roles, came on opening night of the 1950 season in a performance of “Don Carlo” from which General Manager Rudolf Bing had, caving in to political pressure, removed Bulgarian Boris Christoff. He was first seen at Covent Garden, London, that same year, then made his Salzburg Festival bow in 1953 in a classic production of “Don Giovanni” conducted by Maestro Wilhelm Furtwangler that has been preserved on both disc and video. The vehicle for his 1954 San Francisco Opera debut was Padre Guardiano from Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino”; a frequent guest at the Vienna State Opera, he was Don Giovanni for a controversial 1967 production which emphasized the piece’s comedic aspects. Over the years, he sang most of the roles expected of an Italian basso, such as the title character of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro”, Ramphis in Verdi’s “Aida” and Colline from Puccini’s “La Boheme”, and some not, like Gurnemanz in Wagner’s “Parsifal”, for which he learned German; inevitably in a long career there will be misadventures, and Siepi was at the center of a classic on a night when the elevator taking Don Giovanni to hell at the end of the opera got stuck halfway down and an audience member called out “Thank God! Hell’s full!”. He was to continue singing throughout the world in both opera and recital until his formal 1989 retirement from the stage, though he did make one last 1994 appearance in Vienna as Oroveso in Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma”. Twice he was heard on Broadway, in the 1962 “Bravo Giovanni” and in 1979’s “Carmelina”, though the latter proved a flop. He died from complications of a stroke, leaving a quite large recorded legacy of both studio recordings, mostly on Decca, and of live performances. (bio by: Bob Hufford)

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Cesare Siepi and David Opatoshu

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Posted by on July 5, 2017 in Bassses


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