Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli is among the most popular figures in contemporary opera, wowing audiences and critics alike with her rich, gentle vocals and expressive three-and-a-half-octave range. A native of Rome born June 4, 1966, Bartoli was the daughter of opera singers, and her mother, Silvana Bazzoni, was her first and only vocal instructor. She made her professional debut at age nine, and at 19 rocketed to fame in the wake of a star-making Italian television appearance opposite soprano Katia Ricciarelli and baritone Leo Nucci.
A subsequent Parisian performance caught the attention of famed conductor Daniel Barenboim, who became one of Bartoli’s most vocal supporters. A television special filmed for the BBC’s South Bank Show introduced her to mainstream audiences, and in the summer of 1990 she made her New York debut at the Mostly Mozart Festival. Bartoli regularly toured the U.S. in the years to follow, additionally making her Paris debut in 1991 in The Marriage of Figaro followed by her La Scala bow in Le Comte Ory. She returned to New York in the spring of 1996 to make her Metropolitan Opera debut in Cosi Fan Tutte. Bartoli also bolstered her fame by regularly touring concert halls as a solo performer.
Her extensive recording discography kicked off with a set of Rossini releases: the operas La Scala di Seta (Fonit Cetra, 1988) and Il Barbiere di Siviglia (London, 1989), and the 1989 solo album Rossini Arias with the Wiener Volksoper Orchester. She followed those with albums such as 1991’s Mozart Arias, 1993’s Grammy-winning The Impatient Lover with András Schiff, 1996’s Chant d’Amour, and 1997’s An Italian Songbook, which earned her a second Grammy. She took home her third Grammy in the category of Best Classical Vocal Solo for 1999’s The Vivaldi Album.
In the meantime performing and recording multiple operas by Mozart, Haydn, Puccini, and Bellini, she entered the next decade with solo albums including 2001’s Grammy-winning Dreams & Fables: Gluck Italian Arias, 2003’s The Salieri Album, and a tribute to Maria Malibran in 2007 called simply Maria. She won her fifth Grammy for 2009’s Sacrificium, which collected works written for castrati.
In 2011, Bartoli married longtime partner and fellow opera singer Oliver Widmer. The following year, Decca released Mission, which saw Bartoli draw attention to the works of lesser-known composer Agostino Steffani, an influence of Handel’s. After being named artistic director of the Salzburg Whitsum Festival in 2012, she played Cleopatra for their production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare that same year, then the title role in Bellini’s Norma in 2013, and she was La Cenerentola in their presentation of the Rossini opera in 2014. Back in the studio, she paired up with Sol Gabetta for the 2017 recording Dolce Duello. ~ Jason Ankeny & Marcy Donelson