Siepi prima NI7942

Déjà Review: this review was first published in October 2007 and the recording is still available.

Cesare Siepi (bass)
Orchestra Sinfonica Radio Italiana/Arturo Basile, Alfredo Simonetto
rec. 1947/48
Nimbus Prima Voce NI7942 [73]

Born in Milan in 1923 and largely self-taught Cesare Siepi started his operatic career extremely early, singing Sparafucile in Rigoletto in 1941. As an opponent of the fascist regime he had to flee his country. He spent the war years in Switzerland but immediately after the war he returned and quickly established himself at La Fenice and La Scala. In 1950 Rudolf Bing brought him to the Metropolitan Opera. His debut there was as Philip II in Don Carlo and he also sang Mephistofele in Faust that first season. A live recording from that year, with Jussi Björling as Faust, was released on Naxos a couple of years ago (review). He remained at the MET until 1974 but continued singing elsewhere for another decade. I remember hearing him in a broadcast recital well into the 1980s with the glorious voice still in good shape.

The recordings on this well-filled disc are all from his earliest years and they must have been sensational when they appeared. What we hear is apparently no beginner but an authoritative worldclass mastersinger with deep insight and perfect vocal control. If there is anything at all that might reveal his age – the earliest sides (tr. 3-5) are from July 1947 when he was 24 – it is a slight unsteadiness on the lowest notes. A couple of years later his tone was rock-steady all through the register.

The Verdi arias are all superb with a warm O tu, Palermo and a mature and gripping reading of Philip II’s monologue from Don Carlo standing out. Alviso’s aria from La Gioconda is another high spot. He sings the aria from La sonnambula with melting tone.

Don Giovanni was of course his most famous role and there are two commercial recordings on Decca, one with Josef Krips, the other with Erich Leinsdorf. Quite recently the Royal Opera House Covent Garden issued on their own label a live recording from the Zefirelli – Solti production in 1962 (review) – a set that is worth seeking out. It is good to have what I assume is his earliest recording of the Serenade, showing that he was a fully fledged seducer even by then (tr. 10). The recording date is not known but the catalogue number shows that it must be from the same period.

Like his fellow bass Ruggiero Raimondi, Siepi was also drawn to Neapolitan songs, normally regarded as tenor repertoire, but hearing a good bass in such songs is just as attractive and Siepi makes the most of them. My personal favourite is the honeyed reading of Brogei’s Visione Veneziana (tr. 17).

There have been few better basses around during the last sixty years and hearing Cesare Siepi in his mature youth is a treat indeed.

Göran Forsling

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Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
1. Infelice! e tu credevi [3:39]
2. Tu sul labbro dei veggenti [4:54]
Arrigo BOITO (1842–1918)
3. So lo Spirito che nega [3:07]
Giuseppe VERDI
I vespri Siciliani:
4. O tu, Palermo [4:18]
Don Carlo:
5. Ella giammai m’amo! [8:12]
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834–1886)
La Gioconda:
6. Si, morir ella de’ [4:38]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801–1835)
La sonnambula:
7. Vi ravviso [3:03]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792–1868)
L’Italiana in Algeri:
8. Le femmine d’Italia [3:22]
Il barbiere di Siviglia:
9, La calunnia [4:22]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Don Giovanni:
10. Deh vieni alla finestra [2:16]
Paolo TOSTI (1846–1916)
11. L’ultima canzone [4:41]
12. Non t’amo più [4:46]
13. Malia [3:08]
Luigi DENZA (1846–1922)
14. Occhi di fata [3:23]
15. Serenata [3:17]
Augusto ROTOLI (1847–1904)
16. Mi sposa sara la mia bandiera [4:56]
Renato BROGEI (1873–1924)
17. Visione Veneziana [3:34]
Vincenzo BILLI (1869–1938)
18. E canta il grillo [3:12]