Sep 192012

’s new album will be on the shelves in a couple of weeks’ time. If Mis­sion is suc­cess­ful it should put early Baroque com­poser  (1655–1728) back on the musical map. He largely fell off it because his ‘day job’ as a dip­lo­mat and priest made it neces­sary for him to write many of his works in secret or under another name.

The Repub­blica’s Giuseppe Videtti went to find the world’s most fam­ous at her home in Zurich.

Many of  Steffani’s manu­scripts have been lost. Or destroyed? 

It’s true, there are no traces of some com­pos­i­tions. Those that remain are in Lon­don and Vienna — it’s there that I found the scores that make up this cd. It amazed me how Steffani’s instru­mental writ­ing is so much like Handel’s, which seems to show that Han­del was influ­enced by Stef­fani, who was thirty years his senior. Operas like Giulio Cesare, Rinaldo and Alcina are extraordin­ar­ily sim­ilar in style to that of Stef­fani. It’s sur­pris­ing and intriguing.

How did you come across a com­poser so rarely performed? 

I wanted to do an early-Baroque pro­ject, that period between the Renais­sance and the true Baroque, via a com­poser who was work­ing in that era of trans­ition. So I star­ted to research the period, along with sev­eral musi­co­lo­gists, and we came across the opera com­poser Steffani.

The list of his com­pos­i­tions is long; he must have been a work­aholic to find time to com­pose while car­ry­ing out his formal duties. 

He com­posed twenty litur­gical works, six­teen operas, and eighty-five cham­ber music duets. It’s not the first time I’ve sur­prised the pub­lic with rarely recor­ded music. When I sang the Viv­aldi opera arias in 1999, a rep­er­tory that is far from being ignored, it included a world première. With the Giardino Armonico we won a for The Viv­aldi album. I hope to do the same here, to help revive the great and for­got­ten Steffani.

How dif­fi­cult is it to get to grips with a rep­er­tory where there are no record­ings or performances? 

On the one hand it’s dif­fi­cult, but on the other it offers great free­dom of inter­pret­a­tion. It’s not good to be con­di­tioned by tra­di­tion, it often doesn’t cor­res­pond to the composer’s inten­tions. I became aware of that, singing the music of the early 19th Cen­tury, Bellini above all. I grew up with his music as sung by the greats of the last cen­tury, who brought ele­ments of ver­ismo into it; Bellini, Rosssini and Don­iz­etti in the 60s were sung like one would and . But Bellini is a true son of the 18th Cen­tury, emer­ging from the Clas­sical era. He was com­ing from Moz­art not . Tra­di­tion can be a betrayal. Bellini wrote Norma for Giuditta Pasta and Giulia Grisi as Adal­gisa, who was a light sop­rano, the first Amor­ina in Don Pasquale. We grew up hear­ing Adal­gisa sung by mezzo-sopranos, some­times almost con­tral­tos, which has noth­ing to do with the first performances.

One critic, after your Met début in 1996, wrote: she’s won­der­ful, but it’s a shame that there are not more import­ant roles for her voice. Noth­ing fur­ther from the truth, it seems.

Import­ant roles from the point of view of ver­ismo roles I sup­pose. I will never do the mezzo-soprano ver­ismo rep­er­tory because I don’t have that kind of voice, but I have a vast range of mater­ial that many ver­ismo sing­ers can’t con­front because they don’t have the flex­ibly of a voice like mine.

Bar­toli rarely sings in Italy and has made her home in Switzer­land, so Videtti  fin­ished his inter­view by ask­ing her how Italy seemed to her from afar. “Beau­ti­ful”, she replied and tried to stop the tears by jok­ing, “Is it true they’re bring back the Lira?” But the tears rolled any­way as she repeated, “Bella! Bella! Bella!”

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