Cesare Siepi (born Milan, February 10, 1923) is an Italian opera singer, generally considered to be one of the finest basses of the post-war period. His voice was characterised by a deep, warm timbre, and a ringing, vibrant upper register. On stage, his tall, striking presence and his great elegance of phrasing made him a natural Don Giovanni, among his many other roles.
Born in Milan, he began singing as a member of a madrigal group. He often claimed to be largely self-taught, having attended the music conservatory in his home city for just a short time. His operatic career was interrupted by World War II. After his debut in 1941 (in Schio, near Venice, as Sparafucile in Rigoletto), Siepi, an opponent of the fascist regime, fled to Switzerland. After the end of the war his career immediately took off. Success as Zaccaria in Nabucco at La Fenice in Venice was followed by the first of many engagements at La Scala, Milan. His early engagements there were in the Verdi bass roles, the title role in Boito's Mefistofele under Arturo Toscanini, as Colline in La bohème, and in La Gioconda, La favorita, and I puritani.
His international reputation was established in 1950, when Sir Rudolf Bing brought him to the Metropolitan Opera in New York to open the 1950 season as King Philip II in Don Carlos. He was to remain principal bass at the Met until 1974, adding roles such as Boris Godunov (in English) and Gurnemanz in Parsifal (in German), and singing all the major roles of the bass repertoire.
In 1953 Siepi debuted at the Salzburg Festival with a legendary Don Giovanni conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler, staged by Herbert Graf, and designed by Austrian architect Clemens Holzmeister. He made an immediate impact at the Salzburg Festival in the title role of Don Giovanni which became perhaps his best known role, as it had been for the most famous Italian bass of the generation before, Ezio Pinza. This performance has been released on CD, and a 1954 mounting of this production was filmed in color and released in 1955.
Siepi was a frequent guest at the Vienna State Opera. In 43 performances he sang Don Giovanni, more often than any other singer in modern times except for Eberhard Waechter. In 1967 Siepi was Don Giovanni in a controversial production staged by Otto Schenk and designed by Luciano Damiani that showed Mozart's masterpiece in the light of the commedia dell'arte and emphasized the comic and ironic elements of this opera (conductor Josef Krips strongly opposed this production). In Vienna he also sang Basilio (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Colline (La bohème), Fiesco (Simon Boccanegra), Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro), Padre Guardian (La forza del destino 1974 in a new production conducted by Riccardo Muti), Gurnemanz (Parsifal), Mephisto (Faust), Filippo II (Don Carlos), and Ramphis (Aïda). He continued to sing at the State Opera until the early 1980s.
He was a particularly fine recital artist, especially in Community Concerts under Columbia Artist Management, and a sensitive interpreter of German Lieder. He married Met ballerina Luellen Sibley and they have two children.
Siepi enjoyed a long career, and performed regularly until the 1980s, including lead roles in the ill-fated Broadway musicals Bravo Giovanni and Carmelina. In addition to his many studio recordings, there are also many live recordings of performances of his major roles.
According to the Italian Wikipædia, Siepi's formal farewell to the operatic stage occurred at the Teatro Carani in Sassuolo on 21 April, 1989. Indeed, Capon's List shows live recordings made as late as 1988.