I’ve been following this project for eight years and I’ve been to St Petersburg many times in train or by ship, because I don’t like flying; one of the most beautiful trips was on the icebreaker from Lübeck in Germany.
I put on gloves and rummaged through the archives of the Mariinsky Theatre, through documents that are centuries old, and finally I found the scores of the Neapolitan composer Francesco Araja and his successors, Hermann Raupach and Domenico Cimarosa, at the court of the Tzar.
The results can be heard in Cecilia Bartoli’s new album St Petersburg.
I’ve always enjoyed research, trying to find forgotten music to enlarge the repertoire, being that contemporary composers can’t seem to write for opera singers like me. It would be wonderful to work with a composer writing for just for us. Mozart wrote his operas knowing the voices of the singers who would interpret the roles. Today, it’s no longer like that: atonal music creates a barrier between composer and singer, so in order to find new music to sing I have to search in the past. I was also curious about Araja because we know his music from his time in Naples, but his Russian period has been completely ignored.
Up until now we have thought of opera in Russia beginning with Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar in the 1830s, but the scores I discovered at the Mariinsky, with the help of Valery Gergiev, show that it started a century before, with Araja. They are beautiful melodies as though the Neapolitan composer was able to blend with his Baroque style some of the Russian melancholy.
Cecilia Bartoli was speaking with the Corriere della Sera’s Stefano Montefiori