Cesare Valletti was among the more admired operatic tenors of his generation. He appeared in many of the popular operas of Verdi and Puccini, but regularly sang Mozart roles, as well, in particular Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni. Valletti was born in Rome on December 18, 1922. His father was a physician and provided him with a good education. Valletti studied music privately in Rome; among his teachers was the popular tenor Tito Schipa. In 1947 Valletti made his official debut at the Teatro Petruzelli in Bari, singing Alfredo in Verdi's La Traviata. His breakthrough came in 1950 when he sang in two important productions — first, at the Teatro Eliseo in Rome in Rossini's Il turco in Italia with Maria Callas, and then at La Scala, where he sang Fenton from Verdi's Falstaff, a role he reprised when the company took the production to Covent Garden later that year.
Thereafter, Valletti frequently sang at La Scala. His American debut was at San Francisco singing Massenet's Werther in 1953. He debuted at the Met in December that same year singing Don Ottavio. From December 1953 to February 1960 he appeared in over 100 Met productions, nearly 80 in the 1958-1959 season alone. In 1955 Valletti sang Elvino in Bellini's La sonnambula at La Scala, with Callas as Amina and Leonard Bernstein conducting. A recording of this memorable live performance surfaced on several smaller labels later on and in the new century. The pair sang together again, in 1958 at Covent Garden in Verdi's La Traviata.
Valletti made most of his recordings in the 1950s, among them a Madama Butterfly with Anna Moffo for RCA and several of Don Giovanni and The Barber of Seville. At the height of his career Valletti suffered a crushing embarrassment: in 1960 Met manager Rudolf Bing replaced him in a production of L'elisir d'amore, and thereafter the tenor refused numerous offers to return.
Valletti remained active in the 1960s, appearing at major operatic venues mostly in Italy, such as the Maggio Musicale Festival in 1962 and 1965. He also gave recitals and concerts. Valletti retired in 1967, but made a final appearance the following year at the Caramoor Festival in New York. Besieged by liver cancer, Valletti died of a heart attack in Genoa on May 14, 2000.