Necrophilia, “obsessive fascination with death and corpses.” Necrophagia, “the act or practice of feeding on dead bodies or carrion.” Opera lovers, devotees of a decaying art form, have an obvious penchant for these perversions. We orfanelli callasiani surely are the worst offenders of all.
Still, the sight of Cecilia Bartoli cradling Maria Malibran’s death-mask in the booklet that accompanies her new disc, Maria, does rattle. When I asked her about it for my Time Out New York feature, she gave a cool, matter-of-fact response, confirming my belief that opera people are deviants.
Bartoli is a fascinating subject. I’ve interviewed Julie Taymor, Peter Sellars, William Christie, Marin Alsop… very smart people. None, though, is remotely so smart as Bartoli.* With the exquisite manners of an Italian from generations past, she reveals precisely what she wishes to reveal, nothing more, all the while mesmerizing interlocutors with her charm.
Except when that delicious façade of hers slips. She was spent during our interview. When I asked whether releasing a disc named Maria so close to the thirtieth anniversary of Callas’s death wasn’t something of a provocation, she fumbled.
“She was a great singer of the 1960’s, the 1970’s,” she offered vaguely, overshooting Callas’s heyday by a decade. “And she was a very unconventional woman for her day. She loved research, and she also loved Malibran. I know that she had some of Malibran’s letters and a portrait.” (Callas, of course, rarely [if ever] set foot in an archive.) Beato narcisismo!
Maria is playing as I write. It is a disc to which I will return again and again, though I’ve listened to it relatively little since receiving it, simply because it is exhausting, almost too absorbing, too demanding.
What’s more, it doesn’t really sound like Bartoli. Manuela Hoelterhoff described her voice as “a smooth, glimmering truffle,” though it is chocolate with a silvery aureole, billowing through the air as weightlessly as silk when it’s not huffing and puffing out machine-gun staccatos and wiry trills. The throaty, slapping sound we hear on Maria and elsewhere is a cruel caricature of Bartoli’s tones.
By the way, I find her “Casta diva” sublime, but that won’t be a popular opinion here in New York, where loudness is mistaken for beauty and meaning in song—and where early Ottocento opera is routinely bludgeoned.
Lucky Europeans who can hear Bartoli in her Maria Malibran—la rivoluzione romantica tour! Well, read the article, and check out the links:
- Tour dates
- Sound clips from Maria
- The museo mobile and Bartoli’s foundation
- “Casta diva”
- A superb French-language interview
- The Cecilia Bartoli forum (these folks are awesome and know Bartoli’s doings better than her Decca publicists!)
There’s much more out there; these few links are to get you started.
A period-instruments Sonnambula also starring Juan Diego Flórez is in the can, awaiting release by Decca. Bartoli sings Sonnambula in concert form at Baden-Baden in April 2008; before that, she takes on Halévy’s Clari (a Malibran role, represented on Maria) in Zurich.
* Okay, you know who else is unbelievably brilliant and articulate? He is.