I will never tire of seeing the Italian Baroque superstar Cecilia Bartoli in concert
I will never tire of seeing the Italian Baroque superstar Cecilia Bartoli in concert. I have adored her since she shot to fame in the late Eighties and I’m not even a Baroque fan. She has an infectious playful energy when performing while retaining an overwhelming focus in her craft.
Her latest CD, Mission, has her on the cover as a bald-headed Renaissance cleric brandishing a crucifix. This most unglamorous photograph evokes the music of Agostino Steffani, a priest who spent much of his time converting the Germans to Catholicism and it was Steffani (whose influence you can hear in much of Handel’s work) who was being performed tonight at the Barbican with the Basel Chamber Orchestra.
Cecilia has always been a quirky performer and her eccentricity seems to have rubbed off on the conductor Diego Fasolis who hopped about and roused his ensemble with largesse from his harpsichord. The orchestra stood as they played which made them very free, almost wild, then out came Cecilia in a blue and green short concert dress, bashing her tambourine.
The audience gave a hearty roar as she stepped on to stage to give a troubadour style rendition of “Alarico il Baltha”, which was full of percussion and tomfoolery.
It had been announced that Cecilia was coming down with a cold and there was a little cough at the beginning of the next aria, “Sposa, mancar mi sento”, but her voice still had that stunning warmth and texture and she sang with accomplished line, grace and pianisssimi that would make a grown critic weep.
There was much use of percussion, from tambourines, bells and bird calls to soft winds blowing during “Notte amica al cieco dio”, which may have been a little gimmicky but created a remarkable atmosphere of hushed magic that had the audience utterly transfixed. Of course no recital from La Bartoli would be complete without her notorious coloratura which was as always, sparkling, ferocious and superhuman.
Despite her cold, she treated us to two encores which included a mesmerising rendition of Handel’s “Lascia la spina”. We really got our money’s worth.
The Barbican has the most stunning acoustics for recitals so if you want to catch the next operatic superstar in concert, tickets can still be bought for Renée Fleming on 9 December, Joyce di Donato on 13 February and for recitals as part of the Juan Diego Flórez residency in April 2013.
Watch: Cecilia Bartoli sings Handel’s Lascia la Spina