This evening, Cecilia Bartoli will become the first woman to sing in the Sistine Chapel. Though, strictly speaking, she was already the first – albeit in a private form – when she recorded the disc Veni domine there, earlier this year.
The Sistine Chapel Choir is made up of men's voices and boy sopranos, yet Bartoli singing with them is a return to medieval monody when women's voices were also heard. Usually the lower down the social ladder the easier it was to have opportunities to perform music.
On the disc Veni domine – Advent & Christmas at the Sistine Chapel, Bartoli sings Pérotin's Beata viscera Mariae Virginis, the piece she will be performing tonight.
It is archaic music, with all its simplicity. Pérotin composed for the Church of Notre-Dame, and it is the first time that I have gone so far back in time1. Singing that music in the place where it was conceived, is fascinating.
The journalist Valerio Cappelli, who was interviewing Bartoli for the Corriere della sera newspaper, asked her about the Chapel's acoustics.
Lavish… ideal for this type of repertoire; the voice travels in a natural way. The fact that this choir's CDs are best sellers shows our need for spirituality, and the will to discover a wonderful music.
In Trieste, in 2011, when Riccardo Muti received the keys of the city, he said,
The history of music owes much to the church, and I'm not referring only to the Gregorian period, which is amazing, but also to the present day. But I don't understand the churches — among other things, almost all possessing amazing organs — where you hear pop songs instead.
If it was for me, in Rome, which is my home city, I would create an important festival of sacred music. With all the beautiful churches we have…
Her Desert Island Sacred Music Disc?
A Requiem. I can't choose between Mozart, Brahms and Verdi. Though I'm certainly very attached to the Mozart.
Is Bartoli religious?
When I hear the music I just recorded with cellist Sol Gabetta, and hear Handel, Caldara, Vivaldi, I think that God must exist. So much beauty can only be the work of the God. Together we explored pieces for voice and cello, which is used as a continuo but is also the instrument closest to the human voice. The CD is titled Dolce duello. The duel refers to the Baroque contention: sweetness combined with sensuality, is the trait of these songs.
Muti said that he's pleased to see more women in positions of power in the music world.
Well, I took his place as artistic director at the Whitsun Festival in Salzburg. I think he's right, and I do believe that women don't have to behave like men to succeed. A talented director must be respected, but in the orchestras, I see too few ponytails. There's still a long way to go.
The themed festivals that Bartoli has proposed continue next year with a date: 1868.
It was an extraordinary year. Rossini died that year, and so I will sing for the first time L'Italiana in Algeri; then Saint-Saëns and Max Vengerov, Grieg and Schiff; Tchaikovsky's First Symphony; Villazon and Les Musiciens du Prince; scenes from Die Meistersinger with Barenboim and Kaufmann: It is impressive to think that when Rossini died music had gone so far.
Yet again, Italy is excluded from her musical projects, except for its music, of course.
Unfortunately, I won't be coming to Italy. But at the Vatican will be La Scala's Intendant, Pereira, with whom I have a project.
I'm also hoping that Pope Francis will be present. It would be a great honour to share this musical moment with him.
1 – Pérotin, also called Perotin the Great, was a European composer, believed to be French, who lived around the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th century. He was the most famous member of the Notre Dame school of polyphony and the ars antiqua style. He was one of very few composers of his day whose name has been preserved, and can be reliably attached to individual compositions.
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.