Cecilia Bartoli, basking in the glory of her successful series of Normas in Salzburg, yesterday become the cover girl of the French newspaper Libération. The centre-left paper, founded by Jean-Paul Satre in the 1970s, has never had an opera singer on the front page, at least, not a living one.
A photo of Bartoli was given half of the front page spread, sharing space with politics and politicians. The reason is the rave review that appears on page 26 by their correspondent in Salzburg, Éric Dahan. He says,
In the coloratura di bravura that peppers the score [Bartoli] has no rivals, but also in the expression of complex sentiments… Never has a more credible Norma been seen or heard on stage.
A bold statement that catapulted La Ceci on to the front page with the headline, “Bartoli, sacred mezzo”.
The day after the performance she told the journalist,
My dream is to take this Norma to Paris and film it.
Let's hope so. She also tells him about the recording of Steffani's Stabat Mater which comes out next week, and her plans for the next Whitsun Festival in Salzburg which is dedicated to Rossini: Rossinissimo!
Rossini has been kind to Bartoli, and Bartoli has been kind to Rossini. All her important recordings when she started her career, and her career with Decca, were of Rossini works: in recital with piano, with orchestra or of complete operas. It was, after all, Rossini's music which made her a singer. This is what she says in an introduction to next year's festival:
Cecilia, dai!, vieni al Barbiere stasera! My brother Gabriele, student at the Conservatory in Rome, is off for a gig in the provinces, regarded as something of a tedious punishment, and that's how I, a teenager more interested in Rita Pavone, Mina, Celentano or Lucio Dalla, unexpectedly make my first encounter with Rossini.
The performance itself was something of a disaster, but Bartoli was hooked.
I experienced this tragic and comic performance when I was just about fourteen years old, and it was my first conscious encounter with Rossini's brilliant buffo opera, indeed this rather disastrous Barbiere was more or less what sparked off my love for the composer from Pesaro. Rossini's music swept over my emotions like a tornado. As a young girl interested mainly in flamenco dancing and as a member of a semiprofessional troupe well acquainted with stamping and clapping rhythmically for hours, it was precisely this electrifying aspect of Rossini's music, this desire for a perfect, effortless, yet inspired way of ornamented singing that I found so gripping. Therefore rhythm and metre, indeed the basic elements of the musical line that had fascinated me already in flamenco, aroused a new musical vein in me: the desire for singing quickly while creating new roulades and ornamentation over and over again.
More than forty years later Cecilia Bartoli dedicates a season to this Italian composer at one of the most important music festivals in the world. There will be a new La Cenerentola which will see her revisiting familiar territory, and an Otello, again with Bartoli. But this isn't a Bartoli ego trip, she has invited fellow mezzo Joyce DiDonato to perform a recital, Agnès Baltsa and Teresa Berganza will be involved in a starry benefit gala, Elīna Garanča will sing in Rossini's Stabat Mater, Vesselina Kasarova is down for Petite Messe Solennelle, and, though not a mezzo, the singer who resembles her the most, the extraordinary counter-tenor Franco Fagioli, has been given a recital with Bartoli's ‘own' Diego Fasolis conducting his I Barocchisti.
Such generosity is the mark of a singer who knows her own worth, which we, and Libération, know too.
Cecilia Bartoli's recording of Steffani's Stabat Mater (with Franco Fagioli!) is released at the end of the first week of September.
Read the article in Libértion via Italians do it Better.
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.
Thanks for this post, Graham. Have been following the progress of Norma all summer and very happy to know it was so well-received.