Cher Public

She feels pretty

semele_bartoliAn unlikely but adept English-language vocal stylist, Cecilia Bartoli, led the cast of a revival of the 2007 Zurich staging of Handel’s Semele, transferred to the Theater an der Wien for a short run. Director Robert Carsen takes an occasional liberty: Juno and Jupiter emerge as British royals, for instance, she a wellie-wearer and devotee of the low tabloids. Yet disbelief is gladly suspended, and kept there, a rare credit these days. 

At the opening Thursday night, Les Arts Florissants rendered the orchestral score in supple detail and with broad tonal wealth, earning a sustained ovation. William Christie, full of vigor, must have relished the chance to lead his own players, as he could not in Zurich. Pit-and-stage coordination signaled confidence, both ways.

Charles Workman delivered the Prince Albert-like god with finesse, dropping oddly, emotively, to a mezza voce for half of his infinite-gift aria, “Where e’er you walk.” Birgit Remmert’s alto no longer projects evenly through its range, yet she retains her bottom and milked the role of Juno with queenly aplomb, musical and dramatic.

Bartoli ‘s “Myself I shall adore” placed textual emphasis on its second line, “If I persist in gazing,” with Remmert, now as Ino, itching risibly to snatch back the mirror: in a tale of ambition, this Semele would fall to her fate seemingly by mishap, not so much by scheming.

Bartoli in 2007 Zurich performance of Semele

Head and chest voice sounded warmly integrated, versus 20 years ago, notably in Act One. Fireworks, late in the evening, found agility and power, though with slight slowing in the lethal demand aria, “No, no, I’ll take no less,” abetted by Christie, perhaps for effect. Here Congreve’s story turns ugly, and Bartoli rose to a concomitant smoldering anger — in clear English and at generally breakneck tempos.

The four supporting roles were stylishly taken. Over the hum of air conditioning, and despite dull diction from the Arnold Schoenberg Chor, it was gratifying to watch and hear a 1743 London work seduce everyone in Beethoven’s small house.

  • And the Ceci bashing starts in 5… 4… 3… 2…

  • Clita del Toro

    It shouldn’t happen to a dog.

  • Bill

    The Viennese Press gave Bartoli stunning reviews for her Semele performance and every performance of the run is reportedly sold out.

  • OpinionatedNeophyte

    Shameless mugging….check
    Indulgently slow tempo….check
    Indulgently fast tempo…..check
    2,000 clucks per minute….check

    I suppose there’s comfort in the familiar.

    • Conchita

      And don’t forget mannered breaths instead of sung notes.

      • OpinionatedNeophyte

        Indeed, check.

      • richard

        Yeah, this bothers me a lot more than most of the other things Bartoli does.

        The whispery/breathy thing reminds me a bit of Schwarzkopf, particularly with the often distorted vowel sounds. If I heard just some isolated phrases of this aria, I would have guessed late Schwarzkopf and that’s not much of a complement coming from me.

        • messa di voce

          Can’t remember which critic referred to Schwarzkopf’s “breathy, puffed-up tone;” applies even more so here.

        • Harry

          SChwartzkopf over focused and produced sounds like they were coming out of a fish’s arse, under pressure!

  • Feldmarschallin

    she is also becoming Indentantin of the Salzburger Pfingstfestspiele, taking over from Muti in 2012. Apparently she understands herself quite well with Perriera too from what I read in an interview. All this of course from their many projects in Zuerich.

  • Not bad English diction. Better than some native speakers

  • I remember La Cieca posting the Myself I shall adore aria a couple of years ago. Bartoli got a lot postive comments here. Her rendition is pretty damn good.

    • hab mirs gelobt

      bartoli doesnt sing myself i shall adore badly (if one isnt allergic to her mannerisms, she certainly puts much thinking into her singing), but i prefer it much more this way as the manner of singing seems more ‘natural’

      • hab mirs gelobt

        and as we are at it… the production is hilariously funny in parts by the way (which unfortunately doesnt come across that much in the dvd release with bartoli … plus bartoli didnt go nude at the end of act 1 -- blessing in disguise???)


        • hab mirs gelobt

          ummm, links work better if i could type! below the right one…

      • hab mirs gelobt

        and i shall i adore myself even morer ;)

    • richard

      Well, I certainly don’t hate Bartoli. But I really regret the mannerisms that had taken over.

      I remember seeing a documentary on her that must have been filmed in the early 90s with Christopher Raeburn doing a lot of the commentary. I thought at the time she was just amazing. I recall Bartoli explaining the difference in how she sang florid Rossini music from florid Mozart , one (I don’t remember which, ugh, memory!)had a more pronounced connection between the notes.

      She is amazingly well schooled. Early on, although she did use some kind of diaphragm manipulation, she did not aspirate the florid music, there was a remnant of connection with no puff of air between each note.

      But I do find it hard to watch/listen now. I can deal with a lot of the fussing but I do hate the breathy, whispered notes. In a way she has gone the same route as Fleming as well as (from an earlier era) Schwarzkopf.

      too bad, I thought she was just an amazing talent when she started out and her voice is still intact.

      • luvtennis

        I have now come to view Bartoli as a charlatan. No amount of rationalization can account for the incredibly weird things she is now doing with her voice. There is no historical support for the vocal mannerisms which she uses in place of actual singing. The voice is almost completely unsupported. When she does try to get “under” the tone is spreads or goes terribly sharp.

        The fact that she still has defenders is a sign of just how low our standards have become.

        Most of the comprimaria recording Inez (the Trovatore one) have better supported tone than Bartoli.

        Sure she can aspirate up a storm, and cluck like a chicken, and squeal like a stuck pig. Perhaps she should give up opera and become a street performer.

  • Charles Workman has a Prince Albert? Oops, my bad.

    • louannd

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    And now the Autrians have made her the Intendantin / Direktorin of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival.

  • Avantialouie

    I have a DVD of the Zurich, 2007, performances. Those who find Bartoli’s performances marred by “mugging” and “clucking” should be sentenced for eternity to listen to Emma Kirkby in every role Bartoli has brought such life to. I salute Bartoli for her steadfast refusal to accept the silly proposition so many modern conductors would force on us all: that the human voice is some sort of “period instrument.”

    • OpinionatedNeophyte

      Oh dear, I do hate these sort of mix ups. Please don’t confuse my criticism of Bartoli’s Semele with a desire for historically accurate singing or instrumentation. My issue’s aren’t with her “modern” singing, its with her “bad,” “sloppy” and “mannered” approach to the music. I will concede that I’d rather experience a Bartoli performance than anything by Kirkby or that whole crowd. There’s little chance I’d fall asleep listening to Bartoli. Then again, there’s also little chance I’d fall asleep were I shot with a round of BB gun pellets from a machine gun. Does rousing automatically = enjoyable?

      • Harry

        OpinionatedNeophyte : Reading your comment produced an unwitting vision of a nightmare …let’s cast Kirkby and Ian Bostridge in something..together.

        • Nerva Nelli

          “let’s cast Kirkby and Ian Bostridge in something..together.”

          Maybe an Albert Hall Gala?

          1) DIE WALKUERE, Act One (w/David Thomas als Gast)

          2) LES HUGUENOTS, Act Four Grand Duet

          3) PORGY AND BESS Bess, You is My Woman Now

          4) ANDREA CHENIER, Vicino a te

    • Vox

      Good lord. Bartoli will be remembered well long after the critics on this list are dead and buried. But I expect this from this list, much as I love you all.

    • MontyNostry

      Bartoli and Kirkby together — now that really would be hell. Oil and water not mixing etc …

    • luvtennis

      You have to be joking!

      Bartoli is the singing version of Clarabelle the Clown.

      I have absolutely no prejudice with regard to HIP practices. Frankly, I think Mozart and Handel should be sung by the best voices -- a pox on the white, straight, choir-boy tone that once passed as the sine qua non of HIP singing.

      But Bartoli exemplifies no tradition except the tradition of CRAZY. I think the last bit of honest singing that she did is on the Vivaldi CD.

      PLease note, I was once a tremendous fan of hers. Her Cenerentola, Idamante, Cherubino were all treasurable. But you have to support the voice or all you are doing is cooing and clucking.

  • papopera

    Is it Bartoli’s intention to continue her career singing all these antediluvian operas ?

    • armerjacquino

      No, she thought she’d have a crack at Wozzeck.

      Antediluvian? Handel? Jeez. Some people.

  • La marquise de Merteuil

    Who else at that level is championing this music?

    So, until someone else comes along who doesn’t choke the words to create effect, snarl (Salieri disc in particular) etc … , I’ll continue to buy Bartoli’s cds and continue to be thankful that at least I get to hear what this music sounds like… Now Semele I won’t bother with, as long as I have my unHIP Battle nothing else will take its place.

  • I have this commercial DVD. It is ghastly.

    • operanut

      I agree. I purchased this DVD and waited in great anticipation for what turned out to be one of the most disappointing musical experiences I ever had. Most of the singing was plain out poor and the production, in my opinion, was silly. I’ve watched the DVD once.

  • scifisci

    anyone know about this?:

    I would buy this just to see her milk a cow onstage

  • I saw the second performance last night and it really was delightful.

  • richard

    Very un-HIP and certainly with more ornamentation than would be considered appropriate today, here is the much hated Sills singing the same aria.

    This Semele performance dates from the fairly brief period between her making a name for herself and her voice starting to become unraveled .

    I can’t help finding some of the effects dazzling.

  • Conny

    As announced today in Vienna, by Alexander Pereira, the designated intendant of the Salzbourg Festival, Cecilia Bartoli has been appointed, as of 2012, for 3 years, as artistic director of the Whitsun Festival, an off-shoot of the Salzbourg Festival. The Whitsun Festival has been created in 1973 and integrated in 1998 in the Salzbourg Summer Festival. She will replace conductor Ricardo Muti in this position, clearly indicating a renewed and intensified focus on baroque music, though Mr. Pereira has pointed to a broadening of the festivals programming.

    For the 2012 edition, Haendels 2012 “Giulio Cesare in Egitto” is already scheduled. Next years Whitsun festival, taking place 10-13 June, will be dedicated to the Neapolitan school of music.