Cher Public

Cesare Siepi 1923 – 2010

Cesare_SiepiLa Cieca has just heard that the legendary basso cantante, star of well over 400 performances at the Met, died earlier today in Atlanta.

Here is Cesare Siepi over the course of more than two decades, singing music from La favorita, Don Carlo, Le nozze di Figaro, La gioconda, Don Giovanni, Ernani, Faust and Norma.

Siepi Tribute

And here, Siepi in 1970 (20 years after the Don Carlo selection in the audio clip above) again singing “Ella giammai m’amò.”

  • Clita del Toro

    IMNSHO the only two bassi of that period who were in Siepi’s league were Ghiaurov and Christoff, a singer who I adore, but unfortunately had never seen in person.
    You can have your Pape!

  • Baltsamic Vinaigrette

    A wonderful artist. RIP.

    My goodness, I don’t know which Italian wine to open tonight in his honour: Pio Cesare Barbaresco 1999 from Piemonte, or perhaps Siepi 2004 from Toscana? The Nebbiolo is redolent of rose petals and bitter chocolate, understated power and a long finish -- also suffers terribly from colatura, which sounds appropriate in the circumstances; the Supertuscan,
    Sangiovese blended with fruit-forward French import Merlot, is easier to knock back but no less gorgeous for all that.

    To be honest, this is one of those occasions when it would be churlish not to have both.

    Do any other parterrians enjoy wines on an operatic, or at least musical, theme? Two big-selling brands here, Carmen and Figaro, offer a decent enough quaff; but for a real occasion I can more easily recommend a classy Sicilian called Tancredi, and if fizz is your thing, kick off proceedings with Taittinger’s Prélude or Nocturne.

    Is there anything else you could recommend?

    • Buster

      Chateau Margionaux.

  • CruzSF

    Just in time: Amazon delivered this morning Don Giovanni with Siepi as DG. (Of course, I didn’t know it would be timely when I ordered it, but listening to it today seems apt.)

  • Clita del Toro


    Thanks for the Marton stuff. I assume you mean the unamed Domingo as Lohengrin (a big yuch to him!). I prefer early Koyna, Hofmann and Jerusalem to Himself any day.

    Of course Leonie IS the divine one (other than Maria??). One of the most exciting singers ever--even at her 12-tone worst! I always talk about her 12-tone Tosca, where in Act II she entered hyper-hysterical and had nowhere to go from there! LOL

    • marshiemarkII

      yes of course the unamed Domingo :-) big yuck indeed, I doubt I’ll ever hear a more glorious Act III duet than what Anna Tomowa Sintow did but to have to share that with him?????? imagine Konya (who does have the sublime Janowitz!) or the early Hoffman?jerusalem pair?, I saw both of their Met debuts, as Lohengrin in fact! Hoffman was alos so gorgeous to look at then, even more so than today’s Jonas K.

      Leonie, well there is no one like her of course, but that San Francisco Ortrud has to be one of the absolute greatest performances ever by her or anyone else, those final “far heim, far heim… ” (marshiemarkII’s own personal motto :-) ) my GAWD!!!! Marton was fabulous too, but just short of that sacro fuocco that only Leonie could have. Yes Tosca, were you there for her 1979 Tosca when she broke the glass? just was in not so good voice but what a performance!!!!!!! we were the young queens howling more than she did, at the end on the front railings!

  • Clita del Toro

    I was at Leonie’s and Konya’s Met debuts. I loved Konya’s voice at that time.

    Speaking of Domingo, I saw his Parsifal in DC. A totally unmemorable performance--and he looked and acted like a big jerk!

    And yes, Hofmann was TOOOOO gorgeous.

    • marshiemarkII

      Clita, I am green with envy that you were there for the Macbeth, replacing La Maria????? WOW, but I hadn’t been born yet!! But one of my most memorable nights at the opera was the 1976 Walkure when Leonie sang one of the most transcendent performances of Sieglinde, to this day I remember and treasure every detail of every moment, most especially the Wahnsinnszene in Act II, and I was so young I didn’t know who she was beforehand!!!! I adored her from then on, and had the honor many years later, to sit next to her at a dinner at the Austrian Embassy in Buenos Aires, followed by a long night of schwul carousing. Unforgettable!

      Konya I never saw live, but I adore the recording with the sublime Janowitz. He may be my favorite Lohengrin. He is also sublime with the very Leonie from Bayreuth(?). Peter Hoffman, as Lohengrin or Siegmund, had no equals in terms of looks, and that does count, right? His debut in 1979(?) was something to behold. Of Domingo the less said the better, the list of performances he ruined fro me is so long, I wouldn’t know where to start :-)

      • Buster

        Isn’t it Janowitz -- King, instead of Janowitz -- Konya? Anyhow, interesting stuff, thanks a lot.

        I am seeing Dunja Vejzovic in september -- did anyone here her Ortrud live? Not the prettiest instrument, but she looks stunning:

        • marshiemarkII

          Buster, yes yes yes, I have to admit that I am getting old, and confused….
          Yes the Lohengrin is indeed with Konya and Rysanek from Bayreuth, and also another one with Steber, I checked last night as I have both on CD. The Lohengrin is indeed with the divine Gundula and James King who is also beautiful, with Kubelik. My confusion derived from the fact that Konya is paired with the divine Gundula in the Meistersingers, also with Kubelik, one of the greatest records ever made of possibly the greatest opera. I’ll never forget the first time I laid my eyes on that recording at Ludwig Beck’s in Munich, I was on the moon for about three days afterwards. It was on the Calig label. Why oh why hasn’t DG ever released that under their label?????? Not that Calig is bad or anything but it would “look” so much better on DG, and would make such a nice pair with the Lohengrin.

        • Buster

          Thanks -- after your praise, I am interested to hear that Kubelik Meistersinger. Brigitte Fassbaender is on it too, for a couple of seconds.

        • marshiemarkII

          Oh Buster, by all means, I assure you, you will not be disappointed. It’s one of those cases in which all individual performances[ers] look good on paper, and you feel you cannot go wrong, but when you actually hear it, the effects of each individual are multiplied manyfold and you have something unexpected and truly magnificent. That orchestra!! first and foremost! and of course Gundula and Konya in the Quintett is to die for, what Preislied!. I got it in 1989 (I think) in Munich as it was still not available in the US, although eventually it did come here too. It’s never too far off from my player. I heard the same orchestra play the Wach Auf for the Opening of the Prinzregenten in 1996, it’s music they really have in their blood :-) Absolutely heavenly. I don’t know if and in what label is available today, it was recorded by DG but some contractual issues prevented them from issuing it, so it eventually came out in “pirate” labels, although Calig was kind of mainstream. Please let me know if you cannot find it, I could make you a copy.

        • Buster

          Thanks a lot for the offer, marshiemarkII, but I work in a public library with access to 600.000 cd’s and lp’s, and we had it stored away in the vaults.

          It is also still for sale:

  • Clita del Toro

    PS I missed Leonie’s “broken glass” Tosca LOL (was it her voice?)--saw it much earlier--I left NY in 1971.

  • Clita del Toro

    marshie: the last time I saw Leonie was in Kat’A Kabanova. I had brought a friend from Washington (state) who had never seen an opera. She was totally blown away by Leonie’s performance; and the audience went wild at the end of the opera!! The ovation seemed never to end.

    • marshiemarkII

      Clita, the Tosca in 1979 found Leonie in not such great voice. I was so enthralled by her that I swear I didn’t notice anything wrong, and I am a picky queen even with my favorites, but others did notice she was under severe stress. Most of all she herself must have felt so because she became progressively more hysterical culminating with her hurling the wine glass in Act II. I thought it was part of her show, but not so, she really was a bit bonkers over her stressed out vocal state. At the end there were boos, totally drowned out by the howling we were carrying on in the front railing, but she felt them and then cancelled her backstage list and left from another door. She was said to have left in tears. The following year she came back for the Nilsson Elektra, I saw all four performances!!!! That was divine singing if there ever was, especially compared to the wretched state of old Brigit vocal state at that point. Leonie was quite simply sublime in every imaginable way. And then came the 25th Anniversary Concert in 1984, Act I of Walkure and Act II of Parsifal with Peter Hoffman. They had to bring the police :-) to get us out of the theater, the howling would just not quit and she was joyous, throwing herself on the worshipping, adoring public that would just not let her go. What a night that was!!!!! The following year was the hepatitis and the not so good Ortrud and the complete Parsifal with Jon THE GREATEST Vickers, Leonie was really not very good in either, though she did manage a fabulous broadcast of Parsifal (I saw all four performances). So it was with her, always variable, but never less than totally divine.

  • Thank you all very much for the Siepi recommendations. I might get his Met debut which also has Bjoerling, Merrill and Hines.

    • marshiemarkII

      kashania, if you feel like having one more Verdi Requiem with the great Siepi (RIP), you can go to the House of Opera site and you will find a performance from Salzburg 1958 with no less than the greatest Herbert von Karajan and including Christa Ludwig and Leonie Rysanek!!!!!! I think I am going to order it myself.

      • Well, I suppose one can never have too many Verdi Requiems. I only have six as it is. Ludwig would be interesting. And Rysanek sounds fascinating, especially in the late 50s. What a “Libera me” that must be! And Karajan from the most interesting part of his career. Hmmm…

        • marshiemarkII

          Yes the Libera Me precisely, imagine that volcanic final C! that is the same year of the sublime Sieglindes at Bayreuth with Vickers!

        • The 1958 Karajan Salzburg performance of the Verdi Requiem is, in my experience, one of the best performances ever caught on tape. It was reissued at one time by EMI along with the Bruckner Te Deum. Three other live performances which are essential, IMHO, are conducted by Abbado and are documented on video. The 1969 La Scala (Scotto, Horne, Pavarotti, Ghiaurov), the 1982 Edinburgh (M Price, Norman (as mezzo!!!), Carreras, Raimondi and the unique centenary Berlin from 2001 (with a rather weak cast but the net result is deeply touching). Two other essentials are the live Fricsay (some months before his death) from Berlin and the Live video from London conducted by Giulini, with a more interesting cast than his EMI recording (Ligabue, Bumbry, Konya and Arie). These are the absolute essentials. Historical performances are in a different category (Sabajno, Toscaninis, Serafin, de Sabata).

        • armerjacquino

          If you ever find the old Russian mono Verdi Requiem from the 50s (it was released on Philips in the UK) snap it up immediately. I’ve never heard anything like Vishnevskaya’s performance of the Libera Me. Nobody gets the terror and the reflection like she does, and she’s as happy pianissimo as she is soaring over the climaxes.

          In fact, next time I’m at my mum’s I’ll transfer it from vinyl to MP3 as I have a feeling it might be hard to track down.

        • armerjacquino

          CF- a couple of those unbelievably sixties-looking people in the RFH audience of that Giulini Verdi Requiem are my parents, newly married and being blown away by Bumbry from the second row.

        • AJ: Now, I saw your Vishnevskaya recommendation. I’ve heard about that one before and it sounds very tempting. Damn you people!!!

        • AJ -- I’ll certainly look for them on my next viewing ;) That Vishnevskaya Requiem sounds gorgeous, gotta hear it. I love her tiny Aida excerpt from the 60s. Gorgeous singing.

        • richard

          I’d second amerjacquino’s recommendation of the
          vishnevskaya Verdi Requiem. I can’t offer any suggestions on where to get it, I had a copy on CD which disintegrated ( I had it on LP years)

          What I can suggest is an alternative. Oddly at the same time the Markevitch set was recorded, Vishnevskaya with a different cast (including the superior mezzo Arkhipova recorded the piece for Russian radio conducted by Melik-Pashev)

          And this was put on an MP3 CD by Mike Richter (his whole series of MP3 CD’s is amazing) . It’s on a disk entitled Opera Russe and you can get it, along with all the other discs Mike created at Image Mogul for under 10 bucks. I have most of this discs and they are all worth listening too.

      • C/F: I have the second Abbado video with M. Price, Norman, Carreras and RAimondi. The mezzo part is a fabulous fit for Norman and Price is quite superb as the soprano. Carreras’s voice had already started to decline at this point but the role suited him very well and did not expose his flaws. Raimondi is very good but not as imposing as Siepi or Ghiaurov. Overall, I think it’s a tremendously exciting performance. There is also a live Abbado recording with Gherghiou/Alagna/Barcello/Konstantinov. That is an excellent recording too except for Konstantinov.

        I am going to add that live HvK (with Rysanek) to my list. These recommendations cannot be ignored. And geez, that live Guilini recording sounds pretty good too… Not a good day for my wallet today. :)

        • Kashania that Angie Robby Abbado Requiem is the Berlin one from 2001 I was referring to earlier. Cast doesn’t work well together as a team but Angie is very exciting in her way and the (spliced, I saw the live relay and it was flat) pppp high B is very impressive. I love the M Price / Norman duo on the early Abbado. Both had very ‘instrumental’ timbres in that they were able to maintain very pure pitch (Norman in the mezzo register) despite vibrato. So all the thirds and sixths sound as pure as Bach. And Abbado is tremendous. Yes, the men are weaker but who said it was a perfect world?

          Does anybody else feel so cold regarding the Karajan / Clouzot video from 1965? I think its very technical, manipulated and on the whole a celebration of Karajan’s ego. The cast is superb, but Karajan is on automatic pilot.

        • Ah, I’m glad to know that I already have 2001 Berlin one. One less on my “to do” list. LOL

          As for Karajan video, I don’t feel as strongly as you do about it but I agree. The reason I love that video so much is because the singing is simply glorious — probably the best quartet available on any recording. But in the conducting department, I prefer Toscanini, Reiner and Abbado (both versions). And the videography is very much an HvK ego trip. One of the most profound things about the piece is the final utterance of “Libera me” and how it sits in the mid-voice for the soprano. To me, the setting of that ending is very humane, focusing is it does on the soprano (in mid-register, as if to suggest that any member of the audience could sing those final notes) accompanied by chorus. In other words, the camera should be on the soprano at that point, not the conductor!!!

          (And in my previous post, Barcello=Barcelona).

        • For one of the best performances of the soprano part, try to get hold of the Kord version, recorded in Warsaw. The Polish cast is very, very good (Toczyska, Ochman, Mroz) and Zylis-Gara is absolutely sublime. She has everything the role demands.

          Regarding the pppp declamatory ending, there’s an interesting story about a performance of the Requiem given in Terezin camp around 1943. The soprano got deported to Auschwitz before the performance so they had to find another one. They decided to disregard Verdi’s dynamic marking for the end and sing the declamation in a house-raising forte, thus defying God and defining the entire context of the performance.

        • What a story, CF! It is impossible to image what it must have been like for her colleagues, knowing where she was going. How can one even perform under those circumstances?

        • I’m currently working with a mezzo soprano friend on putting on a cabaret program comprised of songs and Lieder written in Terezin. There is such an abundance of gorgeous music that survived, from operas via chamber music to genuine Lieder and cabaret songs. The best composer (and still unknown) is probably the Berlin born James Simon (1880-1944). Try to locate his Gebet. The music is highly original and infinitely touching. There were also Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann, Adolf Strauss, Martin Roman, among many many others, whose voices demand to be heard. The Terezin camp was liquidated in October 1944 and the vast majority of these artists were already dead by the end of that month.

        • The Vicar of John Wakefield

          The Russian ladies sound vulgar and obvious when set beside the composed artistry of Harper and Veasey.


    Since no one seems to have come up with a good reason for Siepi’s long absence from The Met, let alone hard evidence, I’ve scraped together a few memories of scuttlebutt of the time. The word was, as I heard it, that Siepi felt he should have the adulation that Pinza had gottten, so when he left The Met to do “Bravo, Giovanni,” he burned a few undefined bridges behind him. When that show failed, he could not swallow his pride, and committed himself to a Broadway career. A second flop reminded him that his voice was not going to last forever and he tried to come back to The Met. But by that time, the slack had been taken up by, among others, Tozzi, Giaiotti, Flagello, and notably Hines, who had never left in the first place. Siepi was in the unenviable position of being the Big Frog with no puddle. He essentially had to start over. As I recall, he came back as Gurnemanz, a wise move, since he would be carving out his own niche in largely unoccupied territory.

    I’m not sure how much of this I’m remembering and how much I’m making up, but there’s another rumor, never confirmed, that would seem to lend it credence. When The Met started putting out souvenir editions of historic broadcasts to attract larger donations, the first one was supposed to be the first broadcast of Don Carlo. Siepi refused to give permission, and another broadcast was selected. It took the threat of legal action to get Siepi to allow any of his broadcasts to be issued, but some have appeared on Sirius and Met Player. Perhaps as retaliation, The Met never selected Siepi for any of its telecasts.

    I would welcome any knowledgable correction.

    • Hippolyte

      It seems to me that the only problem with your scenario is the facts. Siepi’s first broadway show was in 1962. If one checks the MET database, there is no indication of his doing fewer performances either immediately before or after that period. There is no “return” as Gurnemanz in 1970 as one can see that he did many performances in the years leading up to that production (68, 69, etc.). And his other Broadway show was in 1979 many years after his final appearance at the MET. So, even though your tale sounds good, reality doesn’t seem to confirm it. The only long absence from the MET seems to have been in the post-Bing years when he sang not at all at the MET which your posting doesn’t address.


        Oh man, I hate facts.

        • CruzSF

          Well, you did warn of “memories of scuttlebutt.”


          Okay then, what about the Space Aliens idea?

        • CruzSF

          You might get some traction out of “Space Aliens sapped Mary Garden’s blood.”

        • SF Guy

          Betsy--When I clicked on your comment re: “the Space Aliens idea” in the Cher Public column, I was hoping it would relate to “endless loop” and the value of thinking outside the box. Shucks!

      • richard

        If there was some fallout from Siepi’s Broadway attempts , there were probably rather mild as far as the Bing years were concerned. He appeared regularly at the Met throughout the 60s, some years had more performances than others but for instance, 1969 had 15 performances, not a bad total considering the entire schedule of operas from Sep-Dec 69 was cancelled do to a big strike.

        The Gurnemanz came in Spring 1970, after the season was modified following settlement with teh musicians union. And Siepi sang regularly during Bing’s last three seasons, a period that I attended a LOT of performances.

        As I recall hearing, Siepi’s bittnerness towards the Met, and his refusal to release any performances for release, was due to his treatment by Schyler Chapin. LC has already mentioned the Vespri incident, that was really a shame as Siepi was still singing well. The last time I heard him was in 1980 in a SFO Simone Boccanegra and he sounded very good for a 60 year old.

  • What a class act he was- not only a voice but impossible to imagine a more elegant man onstage. At his peak there was no finer Don G. RIP Cesare.

  • Clita del Toro

    Our “dear,” bullshit Tommasini writes in Siepi’s obit:
    “For some, Mr. Siepi’s artistry, though distinguished, lacked enough daring. Peter G. Davis summed up this concern in an entry on Mr. Siepi for the 1992 New Grove Dictionary of Opera. He “could always be relied on for intelligent, consistently professional performances, rather than interpretations of arresting artistic individuality,” Mr. Davis wrote.”

    WHAT!!~I have never heard this criticism of Siepi. His interpretations were imnsho, quite memorable--like-- they stay with me today as the very best.
    Not “Daring”??? What does that mean--putting your head in the orchestra pit? Doing flips? Specializing in Mefisto roles--Showing your bare chest??? Jerking off on the stage? Stretching your voice beyond its capabilities?

    I think that he was thinking of Pape when he wrote that.

    • brooklynpunk


      Shouldn’t your beef be more with Peter G. Davis, then with Tommasini--who is, in this case, just reporting what others are on record, having said?

      An obituary for a famous person…even as beloved an Artist as Siepi was, doesn’t have to be a fawning love-feast, without stating any opposing thoughts…nu?

      With all due respect…is it just a case of Tommasini-phobia on your part…?

  • Clita del Toro


    I realize that Tommasini included the quote for “balance.” DUH! LOL And Tomm. was the one who included the quote, not Davis. Right? it was his choice.
    I don’t mind the inclusion of negative criticisms in obits, as I have read in my dear Maria’s and others’.

    I was surprised because I have NEVER, EVER heard that criticism of Siepi--and I saw everything he sang in the 50’s and 60’s. No one on the opera line at the old Met or anyone else that I knew even hinted that.
    Maybe about Jerome Hines, but not Siepi.
    I guess Tommasini couldn’t come up with anything else to write???