Sunday, July 18, 2010
Remembering One of Opera's Finest
July 17, 2010
The death on July 5 of the splendid Italian basso, Cesare Siepi, 87, may not have robbed the opera world of a current luminary. Nevertheless, as he was widely hailed as one of the greatest and most popular Italian bassos of the 1950s and '60s—the precursor to such rare and outstanding bassos of our day as the veteran Italian Ferruccio Furlanetto and the German René Pape—Siepi's passing invites us to reflect on the qualities that made him outstanding in his prime.
Tall and strikingly handsome, Siepi was vocally—and physically—the natural heir of Ezio Pinza, the great Italian basso of the previous generation. Pinza's commanding voice and good looks had made him an operatic idol from the '20s through '40s, and these qualities persuaded Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II to select him—at 56—to create the role of Emile de Becque in "South Pacific" on Broadway (thereby easing Pinza's retirement from the rigors of full-blown opera to the less vocally demanding world of musical comedy and film).