In 1706, Rome was a musical city in the midst of change. The great Italian composers of the age were there – Corelli and Scarlatti, and a new kid from Germany named Handel. But the opera was off limits, and the Pope had also banished women from the stage. So composers wrote oratorios – sometimes featuring libretti by music-loving cardinals who differed with the pope. These oratorios featured elaborate arias in flashy operatic style, but using stories drawn from the Bible, or the lives of saints. Mostly, these arias were sung by men who had been castrated before puberty, so that they retained the vocal cords of a boy, even as they attained adult stature. This came up early in our interview.
JH: Most of this music, I believe, was originally sung by castrati.
JH: Is there a particular challenge in terms of your preparation or performance for this music?
CB: Yes, it’s definitely a big challenge. I mean, because, if you think, this music was sing by men, men with men possibility, men power, men strength in the body. Men capacity, oxygen capacity, you know, in the lung. Definitely.
(Excerpt from Handel's "Un pensiero nemico di pace")
CB: But the music was still so interesting, so beautiful, that I’m going to do that, I’m going to study, I’m going to train, and to make my technique more solid. And here we are.
(Excerpt from Handel's " Lascia la spina")
CB: This music sound, in a way, so operatic, you know, and you listen to this music, it’s music full of passion, of colors, of sensuality, but with sacred element, because the text are sacred.
(More from Handel's "Lascia la spina")
JH: The Handel that wrote this music is not the older gentleman that wrote “Messiah.” This was a much, much younger composer.
CB: He was 21-years-old when he arrived in Rome. You feel the energy of Rome, all this virtuoso arias, with the voice in competition with the trumpet, or the oboe.
(Excerpt from Alessandro Scarlatti's "All’arme si accesi guerrieri")
CB: This music is really music who brings a lot of emotion. I really hope to share this great emotion with my audience there. So I’m looking forward to that.
Cecilia Bartoli sings with the Orchestra La Scintilla of Zurich Opera on Tuesday at the Mondavi Center. Much of the music is from her new CD, including arias by Alessandro Scarlatti and Antonio Caldara that are world premiere recordings.