There are always articles on the internet about Cecilia Bartoli’s vocal technique. I even wrote a book about it. I have never believed she is a mezzo and said so. I wrote the things I wrote because I was worried and it provided an outlet.
Cecilia’s technique is quite different from what other people are doing. I was concerned that she was pushing her voice down in order to perform contralto repertoire instead of letting her voice find its natural tessitura. When she said she would never sing the main Mozart heroines, that she was only recording them for fun, I said this was nonsense, that these were exactly the roles she should be singing.
When she moved up into these areas, I was pleased. When I heard her Cleopatra in the spring, there was no hint that it was too high for her. She has the notes for Queen of the Night, but that certainly doesn’t provide a reason why she should sing her. I agree with the assessment that she is a lyric soprano with coloratura facility. That doesn’t make her Queen of the night. I have no sense that she needs to continue moving up.
There are two things: technique and style. Most of the people saying this are wishing that she would perform the bel canto repertoire. I have to admit that her “bel raggio” recording is something I still find stunning. But people always say that Rossini composed his heroines for a mezzo. What they really mean is that Bellini and Donizetti extended the range and tessitura of the coloratura soprano upward from the range expected by Rossini.
Instead Cecilia is moving in the opposite direction and singing music from the Baroque. Do I ever get the feeling that Cecilia would rather be singing bel canto? My writing came from concern, not from wishes and dreams. I don’t tell her what to do any more. It didn’t turn out to be any fun.
The distinctiveness of her technique is part of the distinctiveness of her overall performance. And it is her distinctiveness that makes her stand out from the field and makes her the phenomenon she is. The other significant element of what makes Cecilia Cecilia is the fact that she can perform all kinds of music from her chosen period with so much vigor and excitement without any trace of corniness. She understands this music and brings her unique insight to it. Can we in our viewing from on high claim that she would understand bel canto this well? She is more and more immersed in the early early music movement with Harnancourt and Minkowski.
Her technique determines her path. She would have to want a different path to want to change this, and I don’t see the signs. Her path also determines her technique. In Washington I had my first experience of the “Cecilia’s voice is tiny” phenomenon. I didn’t try to write about it. I was too shocked.
Another relevant question: does the appearance of Anna Netrebko on the scene make this question moot? Anna does not hesitate or hang back.
Broadcast: The Merry Widow
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