Cecilia Bartoli’s been busy: not only getting ready for her new tour featuring the extraordinarily difficult arias by Agostino Steffani that are featured on her new CD Mission, but also doing the promotional rounds with radio, television and newspaper interviews.
The content is mostly the same – why Steffani? who was he? – but it takes a specialist magazine like Italy’s Musica to get some truly interesting replies which illuminate the artist and her technique. Nicola Cattò and Franco Soda spoke to her. Here is a little taste of their four-page interview.
Your voice in these 25 years of career has maintained a colour which has hardly changed, yet the centre of the voice has moved higher: once in Conte Ory you sang Isolier , now the countess Adèle.
The technique has changed more than the voice: the more solid it’s become, the more possibilities have emerged, and the instrument can now respond accordingly. I started studying when I was 14 or 15 years-old, so it’s obvious that by 19 you can’t already have a refined technique: that’s why roles like Isolier or Cherubino that I sang at the time were right for the technique I had then. But my voice has always been that of a mezzo-soprano with agility, I’ve never wanted to tackle roles that are too heavy like Eboli. On the other hand, in the time of Mozart the mezzo didn’t exist; each soprano had her particular colour and personality.
What does ‘coloratura’ mean for Cecilia Bartoli?
Coloratura is a form of expression, of emotion… I feel as though I’m painting with the voice, which is the most flexible instrument that exists: it can be a violin, oboe, trumpet, horn… But we must remember that to become a good player you need to study. You can have talent, but without studying you won’t get anywhere. This is also true for a singer. There’s always something to learn, from everybody!
Somebody once asked me what voice I would have asked God to give me. Hard to answer: maybe the voice of Pavarotti! He, of course, learnt by ear, but that doesn’t mean anything: what an ear! I know many tenors who can read music, but they don’t get near the beauty or technique of Pavarotti’s voice. He had an instrument that was truly blessed by God.
At the end of some sublime aria, you sometimes seem surprised at yourself as though you are observing yourself from the outside: “Wow, I did it!”
We singers are vulnerable, with all the risks involved in singing live. There are times when you feel good because the hall has a good acoustic, but other times when the acoustic is terrible… So with all this, at the end of an aria where everything has gone as it should, there is an element of surprise. Also, it must be said that sometimes when you sing you enter in a kind of trance; sometimes your feet don’t quite remain on the earth. When you emerge from that trance you feel, “Oh, here I am!”
Norma, one of the legendary roles, will be waiting for you next year in Salzburg, a part you’ve already experimented with in Dortmund. Don’t you fear criticism of your approach to the 19th Century repertoire?
I can understand the doubts and, in a way, that makes me happy: the desire to tackle this repertoire was born from wanting to follow the footsteps of great singers of the past. I’m talking about Malibran, or Pasta, who had Cenerentola, Romeo and Tancredi in their repertoire, all roles today given to mezzos: so I asked myself how they sang this repertoire in their time, with what colour and style?
What was the first cast of Norma? Giuilia Grisi as Adalgisa, a light soprano who was also the first Norina in Don Pasquale, the tenor Donzelli who was a famous Rossini interpreter, and Giuditta Pasta, who moved from mezzo to soprano roles. Therefore how much of the 1950s performance tradition is linked to Bellini’s score? Don’t get me wrong, we’re talked about the greats and I have enormous respect for Callas, Sutherland and Caballé: but to do research in how to perform Norma as it was written, nearer to Schubert than Puccini, I think is important and necessary.
Is there a conductor that you couldn’t say no to? If they asked you to sing a role that for you was foolish?
I’ll let you in on a secret: Carlos Kleiber asked me to sing Carmen in Munich when I was about twenty. I must say that I don’t regret saying no: he saw me as a sort of feminist – at least that’s what I’ve heard – who knows why!
Do you have a motto in life?
A phrase from Handel: “Lascia la spina, cogli la rosa” (“Leave the thorn, pluck the rose”).
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.