Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Maria - Cecilia Bartoli
08 Sep 2008

Cecilia Bartoli at the Musikverein Wien

Every time an artist walks onto the performance stage, he or she attempts to give the performance of their lives, focusing on everything they have learned prior to, and giving of themselves in an unprecedented way.

Cecilia Bartoli at the Musikverein Wien

Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano), Kammerorchester Basel

 

In my many years of reviewing and observing operas I have often been privy to magnificent performances, and some not so great; however, the concert given by Cecilia Bartoli to a full-house at the Musikverein in Vienna has surpassed expectation and remains at the top of my list as a spectacular live performance

The air of anticipation outside the concert hall was monumental. Of course, posters and advertisements of Signora Bartoli’s lovely visage graced subways, street posts, and the concert district. All of Vienna seemed to be in a frenzy to welcome this most endearing and talented performer. The line-up for standing room tickets was unprecedented, and the concert hall was filled to its very core. In my many years of attending concerts, I have never felt such energy over one given performer, let alone in Vienna where musical standards are of high public interest.

For many months prior to the release of her new album, Maria Malibran: La Rivoluzione Romantica, Bartoli had given interviews and spoken publicly about her passion and devotion to the artistry of Maria Malibran, a young and talented singer who died at a young age, and perhaps before she had achieved the pinnacle of her career. Expressing a profound interest in musicology, Signora Bartoli has conducted a significant amount of research for this album, making it all the more interesting to listeners, fans, and scholars. Although her other albums have been successful, there is something more intimate about this album, not to mention that it marks her most superb singing to date.

As the Kammerorchester of Basel arrived on-stage, one noticed that the platform for the conductor remained empty. The audience was silenced and the concert began with a performance of the Overture from La Figlia dell’aria, written by Manuel del Pòpulo Vicente García, one of the forefathers of Italian singing technique. The piece exuded distinct 18th century attributes and grand dynamic shifts that were well controlled by the chamber orchestra. The typical melodic influx of classical style with underlying 16th note rhythms soared into the more than wonderful acoustic of the Großer Musikvereinssaal. The overture was a pleasant way to begin the concert. It set the stage for what was to be an emotional and exciting evening.

The audience, silent, waited for the stage door to open and out glided Signora Bartoli, in a beautiful crimson red gown. Already on their feet, the audience welcomed her with enthusiasm and love. Bartoli beamed with pleasure and welcomed them with as much endearment as they offered her. Not only did she take center-stage as the singer, she took her place on the conductor’s podium, facing the audience. On this evening, Bartoli was not simply the performer, but also the conductor. The orchestra began the music to the recitative, scene and aria, “E non lo vedo…son Regina. Bartoli’s colorito and the manner in which she uses her voice as an instrument is remarkable. Her impeccable use of sotto voce and the attention she pays to textual inflection is exuberant and emotionally captivating. She paces herself through each verse and mingles her voice with the orchestra in such a way that nothing ever seems out-of-place. In the middle of the aria, she began to employ her explosive fioritura, which is fiery and seamless. Her depth of range and approach to every vocal idiom she uses are, perhaps, technically perfect. Also affective, was the shift in mood she could create, from a happy one to one that exuded pathos. Her accurate and aesthetically appropriate singing is imbued with a generosity and genuineness that one must see and hear live, in order to fully appreciate the extent of Signora Bartoli’s talent. How brilliant is a performer who can stand and sing with such accuracy and emotion, and also listen simultaneously to every instrument in the orchestra and give them cues as to their entrances. Bartoli conducted the Kammerorchester with delicate and swift movements of her wrists to the amazement of the audience, who vocalized their feelings of gratitude.

Giuseppe Persiani’s Romanza from Ines de Castro, “Cari Giorni,” was perhaps the most moving performance of the concert. Bartoli’s opening lines, “Cari giorni a me sereni d’innocenza e di virtù,” brought many to tears. She thoroughly understands how to use the voice to express emotion, a trait that is paramount to her artistry. The ominous opening of the Romanza was lyrically accompanied by solo cello and harp. Bartoli never sings two notes in the same shape. She is constantly fluctuating and employing different colours, using straight tone and then spinning with such intensity that one could easily forget that this is a human voice. It seems metaphysical: of this world, but shared with a higher realm. A strong silence filled the hall before applause erupted with force.

After a short orchestral Scherzo by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, to provide a moment’s rest for the singer/conductor, Bartoli emerged to sing “Infelice” a scene and aria also written by Mendelssohn. The long and intricate text was moving and the orchestra was profoundly sensitive to Bartoli’s instructive gestures. Again, her lines are seamless and the coloratura that pours from her could be described as one continuous and linear expression of beauty.

“Her lines are seamless and the coloratura that pours from her could be described as one continuous and linear expression of beauty.”

Next, a moment of sheer excitement for the audience as Bartoli sang one of her famous arias, “Nacqui all’affanno…Non più mesta,” from Rossini’s La Cenerentola. I will go so far as to say that this is “exclusively” Bartoli’s aria. No one can perform it with the same intensity, brilliance, and sheer energy that she possesses. It is a tour-de-force. The sound that poured from her, the extensiveness of her range was nothing other than a magnificent gesture of joy and love. The audience called on her for five curtain-calls prior to the intermission, to cheer their hearts out for this singular woman whose voice and joyous presence filled the entire building, and the entire city with love.

The second half continued with Rossini’s “Bel raggio lusinghier…Dolce pensiero,” from Semiramide. Bartoli’s coloratura seemed even more surreal here, with her delicate shaping and long languid breaths. She once again showed herself to be una virtuosa. With pure Bel Canto technique at her disposal, she was able to shift the mood of each section of the cavatina, and used articulation as an expressive device, never disconnected from the text—a feat that is difficult in many Bel Canto operas because of the influx of vocal pyrotechnics. The cabaletta was fiery and an authentic example of an unprecedented virtuosic instrument. Her ornaments, which may or may not have been improvised, were all aesthetically tasteful and brilliantly formulated.

After an Overture from Il Signor Bruschino, Bartoli performed, “Assisa a piè d’un salice—Deh, calma” from Rossini’s Otello. Even through the lengthy text, Bartoli kept every eye focused on her. She was a spectacle all unto herself. The sensitive harp sequences married with her voice in lovely tranquil moments that moved many to tears. What is perhaps most endearing about Bartoli is her ability to make us believe. She is never fake. Everything she sings, she feels. Each piece was in a different style and yet, she melds them together in one brilliant ideal of expression.

Bartoli_2.png

Perhaps the most endearing moment of the evening came in Michael William Balfe’s, Yon moon o’er the mountains, which Bartoli sang with such affection. Although she did not sing one German number in a primarily German-speaking city, she sang this lovely strophic song with slightly affected English, but so beautiful was her attempt that the audience exploded in applause, as they had for every other piece, yet the applause grew in length and intensity as the concert came to an end.

Her final number was Rataplan, written by Malibran herself, which Bartoli performed with the percussionist of the Kammerorchester, who produced the sound of the marching drum. It was an absolute moment of energetic expression for Bartoli. She beamed with happiness as she completed the number to a magnificent standing ovation that seemed to last forever.

After acknowledging her audience, those who sat behind her, around her, up in the balcony and in the orchestral section, she turned and shook hands with every member of the Kammerorchester in a gesture of supreme grace. The work she has conducted on Malibran and her obvious understanding of this music, in the most detailed sense, culminated in this performance; and yet, Bartoli was not willing to take all the credit. She openly expressed her respect for these performers who were able to help her bring her project to life.

The applause continued for many moments, and even after having received numerous bouquets of flowers, she emerged again to sing part of Rataplan, but this was not enough for the audience of course, who began to push their way toward the stage. Those in the standing room were pushing their way into the concert hall, as well, from outside the house. Graciously, Bartoli sang Nacqui l’affanno again, and this time she purposely brought the orchestra to faster speeds to increase the speed of her coloratura. In a moment of genuine communication, she held a high note while putting her hands in the air and waving with both hands to the audience, who waved back at her with exuberance. The concert was over and the smiles and tears of this audience lasted out the door and into the night.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Signora Bartoli after the concert. After several hours of signing autographs, she emerged out the artist’s door with her mother, who has supported her and been her teacher and coach since a young age. With a smile on her face, Signora Bartoli graciously accepted my praises and we exchanged cordialities in Italian. My comment to her was one of great respect for the work she had done, but my comment to concert-going audiences is this: For many years Ms. Bartoli has been often criticised for the size of her voice, not being big enough, and it is my professional opinion that the voice does not need to be large in order to communicate expression, emotion, and musicality. There are those with voices larger than hers who fail to communicate as she does, and whose technique is far from what hers is. It is a voice that touches you in the most intimate emotional place, no matter where you are seated. Furthermore, I would argue that there is a significant amount of power in Ms. Bartoli’s voice and the technique is more than impressive. Oftentimes society is met with something that is out of the norm; immediately, certain individuals are quick to place ideas upon it that really have nothing to do with the truth because it frightens them or because they do not fully understand what it is. Ms. Bartoli’s talent is extraordinary and hers is a musical truth: to bring joy, to those who wish to feel it, through her voice. There were surely many people in that concert hall who had had a difficult day at work, or some who may have been suffering losses, and she single-handedly was able to change their mood and affect every single person there in a positive light. Although there are my talented singers in our midst, who all deserve accolades for their talents, Ms. Bartoli resides at the very height of them. Hers is a talent that will be documented for centuries as one of the truly technically precise, emotional, and devoted performers in history.

Mary-Lou Patricia Vetere, 2008

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):