Cesare Siepi – Operatic Arias for Bass
Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome
Alberto Erede, conductor
Decca, 1956, 2005
The wonderful recording Operatic Arias for Bass was originally released in 1956, when Cesare Siepi was just at the beginning of his international career and for this reason it is even more astonishing to hear how he was already in possession of excellent vocal means and self-assurance. You can find here all those qualities that make him appreciated: his smooth and incisive singing, to which the velvet of his voice and the perfect diction help to give the peculiar nobility and elegance.
The selected arias are taken from Italian and French repertoires from the XVIII to the XIX centuries, with preponderance of Verdi and Mozart, the composers that open and end the album respectively. Between them and some of the most famous operatic arias there are rarities or less performed arias by Gomas, Meyerbeer, Halévy, Boito and Ponchielli. Siepi’s repertoire, that included also Gounod’s Faust, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Wagner’s Parsifal, is not exhausted here, but this is nonetheless a wonderful collection that offers a wide gallery of characters and gives a good idea of Siepi’s vocal splendour. There is to add that these are not exclusively bass roles (I think in particular of Don Giovanni and Figaro) as the title suggests, but, since the distinction between bass and baritone was not made at the time when the operas were written and that they are sung in such an imposing way, I think that we can accept them without further discussion.
The recording opens with arias from Don Carlo, Nabucco, Ernani and Simon Boccanegra, pieces in which Siepi portrays Verdi’s basses in moments of dejection and/or meditation, with the best examples in the long scene of Filippo II (Ella giammai m’amò), the prologue of Simon Boccanegra (Il lacerato spirito) and above all Ernani, the shortest but the most intense of these arias. Just before Boccanegra there is the rare aria Di sposa, di padre le gioie serene from Gomas’s Salvator Rosa, the first of many uncommon pieces where prevail anguish and remorse, while the two arias of the title role from Boito’s Mefistofele (Ave Signor! and Son lo spirito che nega) allow Siepi to portray an extremely diabolic character, thanks also to the emphasis of the conduction that has the only fault to be excessively slow in the second aria.
The only occasions of fun and amusement of Operatic Arias are the two arias of the title role from the first act of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. It cannot but be considered a good fortune that these arias were included, because they give an idea of Siepi’s subtle irony, that is recognizable in single words rather in the general context (note for example the lingering on “se vuol ballare” in the first aria).
When you think of Cesare Siepi, anyway, the first role that comes to your mind is Don Giovanni and it is ironic that two of his arias are the last of this recording. The two arias, Fin ch’han dal vino and Deh, vieni alla finestra, does not exhaust the complexity of Don Giovanni’s psychology but offer a glimpse of Siepi in his shoes. He is first and foremost elegant, even in the impenitent Fin ch’han dal vino, a feature that the next aria cannot but emphasize.
I take advantage of the last few lines to praise conductor Alberto Erede, who gives to these arias colours and nuances never heard before (and after). No doubt that the result of Operatic Arias can be ascribed to him as well as to the singer.