Opera Daily 🎶 — Cecilia Bartoli, Vivaldi, Divas, The Beauty of Hidden Gifts
"The voice is an instrument that must take time to develop. It's like a good red wine. Give it time."
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Today we are featuring one of my favorite musicians — Cecilia Bartoli — who defies classification as a mere opera singer.
Instead, I like to celebrate her as a virtuoso musician — a vocal Van Gogh, if you will — who effortlessly wields her larynx like a symphony, transforming every stage into her very own Sistine Chapel of sound. If you’re new around here, you may have missed this profile.
Before we get into it, I wanted to share some lessons I’ve learned from Bartoli over the years:
Bring yourself to the music — Many singers have great vocal techniques, but you don’t feel the magic when they sing. Music is not only about technique but also about emotion; you need to combine those things. But you can only be free to make music if you have the voice in order.
Study like a craftsman — Bartoli knows that craft is honed over a lifetime; even the master craftsman has skills to refine and new knowledge to acquire. She has an intense love of the craft of singing, including obsessing over a composers’ wishes.
Pressure is a privilege — Nerves are needed - and natural, but we need to GO after that. We need to try our best not to get in our own way - we need to approach our performances “con gioio” (“with joy”), as she says. Pressure makes us better. Life is short. We can’t let opportunities to test ourselves pass us by.
Slow and steady wins — She has a gift + intelligence + patience - Bartoli has always kept her appearances very selective, making her performances unique (not least because she dislikes air travel). Nobody ever leaves a Bartoli concert feeling that they’ve been short-changed.
Now let's explore more about the maestro behind the music.
It's not a coincidence that the patron saint of music is named Cecilia.
As the daughter of two opera singers, Cecilia Bartoli was born to sing. But she wanted to be a flamenco dancer, not an opera singer.
When she was fifteen, her mother said: “Cecilia, let’s see if you have a voice.” After some lessons with her mother (who soon became her voice teacher), there was no denying that she had a gift.
When she was 19, she appeared on an Italian talent show called Fantastico. “I’m so glad she’s a mezzo-soprano," said soprano Katia Ricciarelli who was in the audience when Bartoli performed “Una voce poco fa”, an aria from Rossini’s opera Il barbiere di Siviglia. Bartoli didn’t win the talent show that night, but there was no denying where she was headed. 🚀
Bartoli believes in God-given talent.
She also believes that the work doesn’t stop there. Even though she had been given a gift, she refers to her voice as resembling “a rough stone” when it was discovered. It needed to be shaped through a strong technique and discipline to become what it was meant to be.
Hearing Bartoli’s story got me thinking.
People walk around with gifts inside them every day, but they have no idea they’ve been given these gifts. What about all gifts that you’ve been given? How will you discover them? How will we put them to work?
The thought of people walking around the world with all these hidden gifts makes me smile. It even caused me to look at some folks on a walk again yesterday a little differently, thinking, I wonder what gifts they are hiding?
Bartoli reminds us of the true definition of a diva through her words and actions.
She struggles to answer when asked what a “diva” means to her though, given the negative connotations of the phrase in today's opera world.
Instead, she refers to one of her heroes Maria Malibran.
“Malibran was an amazing singer, composer, and muse to so many. So many talents in one person. This woman was so full of love, courage, and passion. She is a goddess. She is a diva.”
While Malibran is mainly remembered for her fiery operatic performances, she was one of the best-known opera singers of the 19th century and a composer. She died at just 28 years old after falling off her horse, but her fame as a singer, composer, and painter was undeniable by the time she passed.
Bartoli’s Barcelona concert in 2008 at Palau de la Música Catalana was dedicated to Malibran and the goldmine of music associated with this star of the Romantic era.
🎧 Listening Example (3 minute listen): Rossini’s La Cenerentola, "Non più mesta" Cecilia Bartoli with the Orchestra La Scintilla, Recorded at the Palau de la Música Catalana (Barcelona, Spain) in 2008
What’s happening in this aria? Instead of seeking to get even with her sisters who have hurt her, Angelina (Cinderella's birth name) forgives them in this aria. She sings that her life has been transformed by love and that she forgives all who wronged her before and wants only to embrace them.
Bartoli was the first singer to perform La Cenerentola at the Metropolitan Opera’s premiere in 1997.
Bartoli believes that it is the responsibility of musicians to bring music alive.
That music is not meant to be left on shelves — it’s meant to be discovered.
You could say she is a builder of bridges between centuries. Vivaldi is known for his instrumental music not his vocal music. But Bartoli took it upon herself to bring that music to us, studied it intensely, and brought it to life.
Below is a full-length concert with Bartoli from the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris. It features a program of rare arias from Vivaldi's operas, with Giovanni Antonini conducting Il Giardino Armonico (an Italian ensemble specializing in Baroque music played on period instruments).
You can watch the full concert here. [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
🎧 Listening Example (6 minute listen): Cecilia Bartoli sings “Agitata da due venti” from the opera Griselda by Antonio Vivaldi, Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris, Giovanni Antonini conducting Il Giardino Armonico
Cecilia has been the artistic director of the Salzburg Festival since 2012 while still performing at the festival each season. Handel’s Giulio Cesare inaugurated Cecilia Bartoli’s first season as Artistic Director of the Salzburg Festival.
Below is a clip from Bartoli in Salzburg singing one of Cleopatra’s aria’s, “Da tempesto il legno infranto” from Act 3 of the Italian opera Giulio Cesare by George Frideric Handel
Bartoli was recently named the Artistic Director of Opéra de Monte-Carlo.
Jean-Louis Grinda, the current director of Opéra de Monte-Carlo, says he’s convinced that artists should run opera houses. That artists understand all that’s at stake in theaters, and artists know how to take these risks.
What does Bartoli think about the new role? She hopes to start this new position “with a lot of energy and love” because, as she says, “in the end that’s what it’s all about”.
I’ve always been a fan of Bartoli, the musician and Bartoli, the person. She teaches us how to rejoice in the beauty of life.
She loves to sing. She smiles with her eyes. She has a sense of humor in addition to a magnificent voice. Her singing goes straight to your heart.
Whether you feel joy every day or you haven't felt it in a while, after listening to Cecilia, I hope you had a chance to reconnect with that feeling today.
Thank you for reading (and listening), and feel free to reply with feedback or leave a comment.
Please have a wonderful week,
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured “The Easter Hymn” from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.
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The una voce poco fa is a great find. I loved the uniquely mezzo like cadenzas so unlike most sopranos who have ventured into the role She is one of the most rare singers whose voice is like a cloud suspended in air seemingly being watched by her and the audience.
This is such a beautifully written essay, one that could only have been written by a fan with actual training as a singer and performer, expertise in the craftsmanship required, and insider knowledge on what makes Cecilia Bartoli one of the top opera singers alive today. I have yet to listen to the selections here, but I remember being enthralled by Cecilia Bartoli's magnificent voice and persona when you first presented her to us. I am impressed that she and Beverly Sills moved from stellar careers on stage, to handling the nuts and bolts of opera administration and production - Sills at the Met and Bartoli at Salzburg and Monte Carlo. Based on what I've learned so far, don't most divas graduate to master classes or to a well-deserved retirement? They must be rare songbirds, indeed.👏🏽🥂