[Translated from Berner Zeitung. I have switched all my Google Alerts to German and am getting much better results.]
By Carolina Bohren. Updated on 30.09.2014
Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has sung lost libretti from the Tsarist empire. While talking in Salzburg, the Swiss by choice woman explains how she even rode on an icebreaker.
Under the empresses: Mezzo-soprano and director Cecilia Bartoli (48) [She is called Intendantin, which is the title of the person in charge of a theater or festival. She is usually called the music director, but we all know better.]
On the floor of the Mozarteum in Salzburg there is music to be heard. A door opens, and a good-humored Cecilia Bartoli sticks out her head. The Italian appears in an elegant blue pinstripe suit, discreetly made up and with matching sunglasses. During the interview Bartoli is full of energy, often bursting into a hearty laugh, and shows the enthusiasm with which she pursues her projects.
Ms. Bartoli, what brought you to Russia?
Cecilia Bartoli: Many Italian composers of the Baroque period were immigrants, just like me. When I saw that many of them went to Russia, I was wondering: If the historical beginnings of Russian opera are recognized to be around 1830, then what are these
What have you found?
They were invited by the empresses to the palace where they then wrote each year an opera for her birthday. When I found these fantastic scores, it was clear that I had to do a project.
How should we imagine that: Cecilia Bartoli goes to Russia and finds important documents in the archives of the Marinsky Theatre?
It was not so easy. The archive had transferred a kind of exclusive right for restoration work on the library of Washington. [Library of Congress?] This made it impossible for a long time to sift through the material at all.
Sounds like trouble.
Yes, I had to go to St. Petersburg several times before I got access to the archive. Twice I even traveled with the icebreaker from Lübeck by water.
Yes, I do not fly very much. And honestly, that was a fantastic experience! When we moved the boat across the sea and the ice broke (gesturing wildly with her arms, to simulate the breaking up of the ice layer), so that was an adventure. I arrived in St. Petersburg as the earlier explorers had.
What has most surprised you in your work in the archive?
To study the music of Italian composers and to discover that many arias are in a serious, nostalgic, dramatic timbre.
Why is that unusual?
In Italy there was not this kind of music. When one thinks of the Neapolitan Baroque music, there are often the great coloratura arias with songs like fireworks. In the compositions of the Marinsky archive, however, beautiful, slow arias dominate. You already encounter the Russian spirit, although they were written by Italians.
Wouldn't it have been obvious in view of this Russian influence, to record the CD with a Russian orchestra instead of conductor Diego Fasolis and I Barocchisti?
On the one hand what you say is true. It is also true that the musicians who have played at the court of the Tsar, were also Italians. I would like to work with Russian musicians, and there isn't just enough material for another CD, but for at least one hundred (laughs). But for Maestro Diego Fasolis and his orchestra I feel very great respect, that's why I wanted them.
What impression do you get of the Empresses Anna [1730-40], Elizabeth [1741-62] and Catherine [1762-96]?
The fact that they thought very avant-garde, and with their efforts to cultural exchange they did much for music and its new forms.
Perhaps you could make an attachment in the booklet (laughs). No, poor one. She has also written a beautiful march. I didn't feel the need to put it on the CD, but I take my hat off to her! Nowadays there are not many politicians who would be able to do so. Let's ask Angela Merkel if she will write a march for us (get a fit of laughter).
Will we now get from you a libretto to read?
No, such a thing will not happen.
On the album "St.Petersburg" you are singing for the first time two arias in Russian. Torture, isn't it?
Let's put it this way: The language is very beautiful, but it is very difficult because there are sounds that we do not know in Italian. So I had to learn a lot by imitation. Luckily, my teacher said then that at least there is still hope for me.
With your name often appears attributes such as "Superstar" or "opera diva". Do you like this fame?
I think if you can take the glory and use it in service of special cultural projects, then it is something very beautiful. For example, the Whitsun Festival here in Salzburg, where I will present projects, invite artists, can contribute to the artistic exchange.
And the Diva?
You simply have to want to believe it or not. I often say: You're a Diva? I have no time for that (laughs). I have no time, and it is not my character. So if to be such a diva means to make beautiful projects: Yes, I'm a diva one hundred percent (takes pleasurably a chocolate chip cookie).
Keyword Salzburg Whitsun Festival: Is your dual role as an opera singer and director not problematic?
Before me the artistic director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival was a conductor. They organized the festival and the orchestras. So they used their instrument. Basically, I 'm doing the same thing, only that I sing rather than conduct. The great difficulty lies not in this dual role, but in the organization itself.
What do you mean?
I now have a responsibility that I have previously not perceived so. I am aware now of things which I used to not even have imagined that they existed.
There are artists who need to be housed in completely white spaces so that they can relax. It's nice to be able to discover all these new things.
As director: How important is for you faithfulness to the original?
The music of a composer must be presented in its meaning [?]. From there we should get our inspiration. Of course every artist has the opportunity to develop their own interpretations of this music, but always with great respect for the score. The audience can love an artist or not. But we must always create new visions of the music of a composer. Basically singers with their voices make the colors of the music become visible. [I hope I got this right. I think this too.]
What opera role do you really want yet to embody?
(Thinks long) It is very difficult to answer this question. For one, I am of the star sign Gemini. That is, one twin wants one thing and the other something else. To find a role that corresponds to both is already difficult. (laughs). Then there is also the fact that I am a chameleon in character. Today I say to you, I would like to do Carmen, but maybe tomorrow I'd rather play an old woman.
After half an hour, Bartoli's manager interrupts the conversation. In parting the adopted Swiss woman says a choice bit of Zurich German, "Uf Widerluege" with a broad Italian accent. "Swiss German is almost as difficult as Russian," she grins.