CECILIA BARTOLI and the AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT
Born in Rome in 1966, Bartoli was raised in a highly musical family with parents, Silvana Bazzoni and Angelo Bartoli, who were professional singers. The young Bartoli trained at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia, while also acquiring much of her musical knowledge and developing her talent through parental coaching.
Since the initial recognition of her talents at age nineteen by Riccardo Muti, Bartoli has ascended into the ranks of the most skilled and sought-after mezzo-soprani in the world. Her early career established her reputation with collaborations with such musical luminaries as Herbert von Karajan, Daniel Barenboim and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. She has since worked with such renowned conductors as Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez, Myung-Whun Chung, Christopher Hogwood, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, and Sir Simon Rattle to name a few.
Bartoli’s operatic endeavors also contain a scholarly aspect. She has made concerted efforts during her career to champion marginalized composers and underrated works that are rarely performed for the public. Her impressive commitment to the popularization of early music is evident in her work to bring the compositions of figures such as Scarlatti, Paisiello, Caldara, Caccini, Vivaldi, Gluck, and Salieri to the attentions of contemporary concert-goers and music-lovers.
Respecting the integrity and historical circumstances of the early music she promotes, Bartoli has collaborated extensively with several outstanding period instrument orchestras, like the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, whose aim is to adhere as closely as possible to the musical conditions in which early music was originally conceived and performed.
The Symphony Hall performance opened with two pieces by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Concerto in C major, RV #114, which was played by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenement alone, followed by Bartoli’s rendition of “Gelosia” from Ottone in Villa. The audience was immediately acquainted with the displays of stunning virtuosity and exacting skill that would characterize the evening’s concert.
Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) was represented by his “Di questa cetra” from Il Parnasi confuso which exhibited Bartoli’s sublime command of mellifluous and seamless tonal transitions and passages that hovered and drifted weightlessly through her listeners, lingering hauntingly in the air. The latter half of the concert was comprised of eleven pieces by Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) drawn from La fiera di Venezia, Armida, La secchia rapita, La finta scema, La scuola de’ gelosi, Palmira, Regina di Persia, and La cifra.
The playfulness and effusive passion for the music Bartoli projected through the hall was palpable. Her interpretations were sensitive and delicately layered—negotiating the perfect balance between sharply sculpted eloquence and opulent bravura.
Bartoli’s voice is characterized by its singularly impressive capacity for technically demanding passages of showmanship. She possesses a precision and command over every subtle fluctuation and movement of her voice that is paralleled by none. At points, Bartoli’s voice would soar in an ethereal airiness that seemed to originate from the height of her temples or the upper reaches of the back of her skull.
Perhaps the most thrilling moments of her performance were her displays of extraordinarily executed coloratura in her various diminutions where a number of short notes propel ascending or descending progressions in steps or leaps. Bartoli revels in her mastery of such decorative devices and florid ornamentation as complex scales, arpeggios, trills, gruppetti, and elegantly graduated crescendos. Bartoli is a virtuoso of fioritura. Emerging undetected out of silence, her voice creeps and swells into the warm apex of an exquisitely delivered cresendo—the audience melts under the radiance of her sonic glow.
The only drawback of the concert was that her distinctively small voice was not best served by the vast hollowness of Symphony Hall. But aside from the slightly inappropriate pairing of venue and performer, Bartoli’s concert was a privilege and a gift.