The enchantingly beautiful Teatro Galli in Rimini was dark for 75 years after a bomb destroyed much of the theatre in 1943. Cecilia Bartoli gave the inaugural concert in 2018 as she has strong ties with the city where her father, a tenor, was born, and it was where she spent childhood summers at the sea with her aunt and cousins.
Last week, she returned with Les Musiciens du Prince – who played thrillingly under the baton of Gianluca Capuano – with Farinelli e il suo tempo (Farinelli and his Times), a tribute to Carlo Broschi, the most famous of the 18th-century castrato singers, though with the arias she chose to sing it was more a tribute to ‘his times’ than Farinelli himself. It is a programme that was seen in Italy in Florence last October though she was in even better voice in Rimini, maybe because, though large, Teatro Galli isn’t as vast as the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino with its 1,800 seats and the more intimate setting better suited her voice and the repertoire.
It is extraordinary that her voice remains intact after 36 years of singing such demanding repertoire, like much of that sung in this programme. The registers are seamlessly joined as she travels from her mezzosoprano lower notes up into coloratura soprano territory. While others have explored the extreme ranges of their voice, some have lost the colour and power at its centre, and others have found the highest notes no longer reachable or else they become harsh and without vibrato.
Farinelli e il suo tempo is more of a show than a recital and during an overture a theatrical trunk is brought on which contains a mirror and lights, makeup, wigs and costumes. Bartoli never leaves the stage during the 90-minute concert and her changes are all done in view, with one very closely timed as she removes seemingly hundreds of hairpins that kept her exuberant hair under control beneath the wigs she wears for the opening arias. There is interplay with an actor who plays her dresser (and ‘teaches’ her to do some Baroque dancing), and lots of interaction with the orchestra, whose players also communicate continually between themselves with wide-eyed delight and big smiles.
Although Bartoli wins ovations for her vocal pyrotechnics, the ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ games with the trumpet, flute and oboe, and her stunning feats of breath control, the most magical and emotional parts of the evening are the saddest and tenderest moments. No one in the theatre seemed to breathe when she sang Handel’s “Lascia la spina cogli la rosa” from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, and Ernesto De Curtis’ 1930s Neapolitan song “Non ti scordar di me” (Do Not Forget Me), which was her last encore. Thankfully, no one dropped a pin.