An Interview with Cecilia Bartoli
- A visit to Monaco enabled us to interview Cecilia Bartoli who had installed
herself for a few days prior to a recital in the jewel box Opéra.
She spoke about her new interest in the baroque period, her debut at the
Met and plans for the future. OperaNet: Your career got off to a
jet start almost ten years ago. You are still singing more or less the
same repertoire, you're always on the go, always singing somewhere. How
do you keep from going stale?
Cecilia Bartoli: For starters, by working a bit less. It's the only way
to relax and hold on to one's pleasure in singing. But you can only enjoy
yourself by not singing every night.
OperaNet: How much do you sing these days?
CB: I work during six or seven months and the rest, in fact, is for my
private life. It's absolutely necessary in order to keep one's balance.
My time off is spread out over the year, perhaps a month, or a week between
engagements. It depends on the project. Taking the time all at once would
mean starting from scratch each time.
OperaNet: How do you split up your engagements?
CB: One third opera, one third concerts and one third recitals.
OperaNet: What do you sing in your concerts with orchestra? Opera
arias, works like Les Nuits d'Eté.
CB: Both, in fact. I sing Mozart concert arias, his Exultate Jubilate,
sacred cantatas by Vivaldi.
OperaNet: And the Berlioz?
CB: Not yet, but I have sung La Morte d'Ophélie with piano,
and also the song "Zaïde". That's all for the moment. A
bit of opera, two or three productions a year, and the rest is divided
between recitals and concerts.
OperaNet: How many different operas do you sing? If we've counted
correctly, there are only five roles in your repertoire: Despina, Cherubino,
Zerlina, Rosina and Cenerentola. You've recorded others, of course, but
not sung them on stage, like Sesto or Idamante...
CB: Not yet, but there is a sixth role, Haydn's Euridice, which I sang
with Harnoncourt last year and have also recorded with Christopher Hogwood.
Next year I will add another opera to my repertoire, Pergolesi's Nina,
ovvera la pazzia par amore. I'm waiting a bit before I start doing
the travesty roles on stage because I don't feel entirely comfortable in
those parts right now. I would like to do them...
OperaNet: And Cherubino?
CB: Cherubino is a bit androgynous. You don't know how old he is, what
he's like. For Idamante or Sesto or Haendel's Rinaldo, we'll have to wait
OperaNet: But you could just as easily sing the female roles in
Handel because the tessitura isn't that high.
CB: Yes, but my voice definitely has a mezzo color, even though I also
have an easy extension with helps with a role like Euridice in Haydn's
L'Anima del Filosofo which was written for a soprano; it's very
low but goes up to high C. I like to sing over a wide range, it's good
for me to be able to exploit my entire voice.
OperaNet: In your recordings of Mozart and Rossini, you don't seem
to make a difference between categories. Do you think you might ever sing,
for example, Fiordiligi or Semiramide on stage?
CB: Not at all. But you know that there wasn't always the tendency to catalogue
the voices. If you look at the score of Nozze di Figaro, you'll
see that all the women's roles are for sopranos. Cherubino is not a mezzo.
The difference is supplied by vocal color. Fortunately you aren't categorized
as in verismo, for example, or in Verdi. A Verdian mezzo-soprano is a very
different voice from the Mozartean mezzo-soprano. Concerning the roles
Rossini wrote for Isabella Colbran, we'll see. I'm concentrating a lot
more at the moment on baroque music, like Vivaldi. Hogwood and I are discussing
concerts and also recording Haendel's Rinaldo, among a great many
projects. I like making music with old instruments, something I've just
OperaNet: You've just recorded a disc of French songs with Maestro
Chung. Is this a new direction?
CB: Yes, a bit more modern, perhaps. The disc is quite interesting. There
are the Ravel songs which are well known, but there are also some songs
of Bizet, some of which are not well known. And then there are totally
unknown songs by Pauline Viardot Garcia which I find extremely beautiful.
She was not only an extraordinary singer but also a compositrice.
OperaNet: Do you sing in German?
CB: Not yet. German is a very beautiful language but I can't speak it yet.
It doesn't flow and I need to be able to feel in German. It will take a
bit more time.
OperaNet: You just made your debut at the Metropolitan Opera. How
did it feel?
CB: It went very well. The Met is a big house, but on stage you don't have
that impression; it's when you're sitting in the theatre that you realize
how big it is. The acoustics are superb and it's an easy house to sing
in. Unfortunately, it's difficult to have the feeling of being in contact
with the extraordinary audience. It's a pity. Watching an opera like Cosi
fan Tutte in such a place - especially during the recitatives, coloring
all the words, and Despina has lots to say in this opera - means you lose
something. And then, all those opera glasses fixed on you, it's a strange
sensation. I was in New York for two and a half months - a long period
- and I think I convinced Mr. Volpe [the Met's General Manager] that they
had to find a theater in which to perform all the baroque operas, a Broadway
theater even, because there are several which are suitably small. While
I was in New York I went to BAM [Brooklyn Academy of Music] to see Handel's
Orlando with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants. I was so
surprised that there was such a theater in which you could present these
OperaNet: How did you like the performance?
CB: It's hard to say; I was totally disoriented, coming from the Met. Carsen
could have worked more on the characterizations. And it's incredible that
that poor girl spent so many hours in the water without ever getting a
cold. But I liked the orchestra a lot [the performance was recorded by
ERATO in January 1996].
OperaNet: It's strange, but the conductors specializing in making
music with old instruments are all beginning to realise that they want
voices which have more body than the little white voices which had been
inflicted on us for too long. René Jacobs calls upon Jennifer Larmore
or Maria Bayo for Giulio Cesare, for example.
CB: I found working with Harnoncourt and the Concentus an extraordinary
experience. It is thanks to him that we have rediscovered an opera like
L'Anima del Filosofo which I had never seen. It's true that Sutherland
performed it, but that was more than thirty years ago.
OperaNet: And if you let the others know, like Christie, Gardiner
or Jacobs, to mention but three and in alphabetical order, that you're
available, I'm sure they'd be delighted.
CB: If you think about the immensity of the baroque repertoire, you can
no longer say that I only sing five roles. The number of roles is limited
only if you consider two composers [Rossini and Mozart], but the moment
you consider the baroque repertoire...
OperaNet: And it's more in that direction that you see your career
CB: Rather than towards verismo, absolutely. I'm clearly a child of the
eighteenth century. Rossini or Bellini is absolutely the limit. It's different
in recital. It's another world and you must make a great distinction..
OperaNet: Are there any singers who have influenced you?
CB: My parents were singers themselves and they gave me my first lessons.
There are singers today whom I admire, like Anne Sofie von Otter or Christa
Ludwig, among others, and also singers of the past. I've listened to Conchita
Supervia's recordings which are extraordinary, the way she sings Rossini,
her ideas - and it's almost 80 years ago - it's unbelievable. Her singing
is very modern; one can like or dislike the voice, there is the vibrato,
but that's not the most important aspect. You can see the personality.
The voice is certainly important and you can hear if it's beautiful or
not, it's the gods who decide; it's more a question of what you do with
the voice, which is the mysterious element. It's the personality behind
the voice which makes the artist. The voice is a gift of God, but if you're
not able to use this gift, what's left? Nothing but a beautiful voice,
without nuance or color.
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