The 11th of February 2006 I went to Lisbon to attend a particularly fine concert with Cecilia Bartoli. It took place in the concert hall of the cultural center and museum Fondação Calouste Gulbenkian in the middle of the city reminding a dane very much of the museum Louisiana North of Copenhagen. The institution is probably the most active part in the cultural life of Lisbon and has its own orchestra. The hall is very beautiful with its simple architecture and dark wood.
The programme of the evening was almost exclusively taken from Bartoli’s latest cd “Opera proibita” containing moralising/religious and mostly unknown music by Scarlatti, Caldara and Händel. The orchestra of the recording had been replaced by the brilliant Freiburger Barockorchester and they played wonderfully. Especially the woodwind section was marvelous and the first violin Petra Müllejans was enchanting and had a vital collaboration with the soloist.
I have attended a Cecilia Bartoli concert once before a couple of years ago and she certainly hadn’t worsened in the meantime. On the contrary I found her to have become more subtle and that suited her voice. This was of course mainly in the quieter arias like Caldara’s ”Vanne pentita a piangere” from Il trionfo dell’Innocenza where the orchestra also gave us all they had of condensed and elastic sound sometimes tending on a frailty that made you just want to purr loudly.
In more agitated arias like Händel’s ”Disseratevi, o porte d’Averno” from La resurrezione di Nostro Signor Gesù Cristo we saw the good old Cecilia with wind in her curly hair and an energy level seemingly threatening on causing inner bleeding! And this combined with a joy of music so contagious that you oughtn’t be in a seat but on a dance floor. In these cascading pieces she had made a small invention that I had never experienced before: she conducted the orchestra. There was no conductor and I think her tempo indications were given by the orchestra’s need of following her and her own need to express herself physically.
The overwhelmingness of a Cecilia Bartoli concert is the joy floating so generously from the stage. Her joy in singing gives the listener a uninhibited feeling of happiness. You oscillate between wanting to express yourself with her (hence the dance floor) and wanting to sink deep into yourself. The quiet arias and the warm colours of the concert hall gave me a sensation of safety and beauty that I will never forget. In Händel’s “Lascia la spina, cogli la rosa” (known primarily as “Lascia ch’io pianga”) the volume was slowly decreased into the quietest pianissimo creating a meditative atmosphere.
The joy of music gave us four encores. Among them one of my favourite arias from Händel’s Giulio Cesare; Cleopatra’s “Da tempeste”. A somewhat different Cleopatra than Inger Dam-Jensen of the Copenhagen production of said opera. But not a less enchanting personification.
Another encore was Scarlatti’s “Che dolce simpatia” that could only awake sympathy with its humorous ping-pong between singer and sopranino recorder.
And then she sang “Ombra mai fu” but on another tune than the usual. I have asked wiser people than me and they think it may be from Giovanni Bononcini’s opera Xerxes (which inspired Händel to write his opera based on the same libretto).
Cecilia Bartoli, Ceciliona, already had a seat in my heart, but now she has to share that seat with the Freiburger Barockorchester – it was pure enjoyment listening to this overly competent orchestra. Not least the ouverture and the concerto grosso they played on their own.
A wonderful evening!