In the late 1990s, mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli was one of the world's most popular singers, for several years eclipsed in album sales only by Luciano Pavarotti, and she remains a beloved figure. Her repertory runs from the Baroque through Mozart, and the bel canto roles of the first third of the 19th century.
Bartoli was born in Rome on June 4, 1966. Her parents were both professional singers, and she made her stage debut at nine as a shepherd boy in Puccini's Tosca. Bartoli attended the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, studying trombone and flirting with a career as a flamenco dancer; her only long-term voice teacher had been her mother. She made her Zurich Opera House debut in 1989 as Cherubino in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, under conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, a frequent collaborator. Her star rose rapidly in the early 1990s; her debut in New York, where she remains extraordinarily popular, came at a 1990 Mostly Mozart Festival concert. In 1992, she would return to that festival for three sold-out shows. Charismatic, musically intelligent, and vocally agile (singing both mezzo-soprano and soprano roles), she made her debut on the coveted stage at Milan, Italy's La Scala in 1991. Bartoli has called herself a child of the 18th century and has been able to combine vocally spectacular Baroque roles, several times in Vivaldi's comparatively underexposed operas, with limpid Mozart melodies, and bel canto through much of her career. Bartoli's Metropolitan Opera debut came in 1996 as Despina in Mozart's Così fan tutte, returning in 1997 in the lead role in Rossini's La Cenerentola, and once again in 1998 as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro. In the mid-2000s, she devoted herself mostly to Baroque opera, appearing as Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare, and then to bel canto toward the end of the decade issuing the album Maria, which investigated the career of famed soprano Maria Malibran. The pace of Bartoli's stage appearances and recordings slowed somewhat in the 2010s, but remained vigorous. Bartoli became the artistic director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival in 2012; her appearances there as Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare (2012), and in the title roles of Bellini's Norma (2013) and La Cenerentola (2014), as well as her programming decisions, resulted in record ticket sales for the formerly academically oriented festival.
On recordings, Bartoli has been associated mostly with the London and Decca labels; crossover albums have been notably absent from her large catalog. Bartoli's 2011 album Sacrificium won a Grammy award for Best Classical Vocal Performance; it was her fifth Grammy. Some of her albums have included music by lesser-known composers such as Antonio Salieri and Agostino Steffani; her concept album Mission (2012) covered the music and career of the latter. On Decca, she released Antonio Vivaldi, a collection of arias, in 2018.
She was inducted into the French Order of Arts and Letters in 1995. She has lived with her husband, baritone Oliver Widmer, in Switzerland on Lake Zurich, in Rome, and in Monaco.
© James Manheim /TiVo