Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Cecilia Bartoli Effect

I don’t know Cecilia Bartoli the way everyone else does. I once gave her advice, it seems, and she becomes all diva-like around me.

Nevertheless, I consider her to be the defining artist of her generation. She is making the classical music world over into her own image. She is like an archeologist digging up old bones. So now everyone else wants to do it, too.

A lot of young singers express a desire to follow her path. I went to a performance of Fliegendehollander in San Francisco recently, and the roles were all performed by people with voices much too light for Wagner. They proceeded to rephrase the whole opera and do the same notes in a completely new way. This is the Cecilia Bartoli effect. We will by sheer force of will make this music into something no one has heard before.

Wonderful! My requirement is “Make me listen! Make me look! Drag me out of my indifference and make me pay attention.” To the production designers and stage directors the requirement is “Explain this opera to me. Make me understand why these people are on the stage together.”

Cecilia does this. Did Figaro ever make so much sense as when she explained it to us in the Met production? She finds the emotional core of any role she plays and draws the weight of the drama to her. Watch Cosi with her playing Despina and then with her playing Fiordiligi, something you can actually do on video. Each time, she is the emotional center. She makes you look. She makes you listen. You can love it, hate it, maybe even worship it, or run from it—but you have to look, you have to listen.

We are going to a new place, and no one is quite sure where.

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