Born on June 4, 1966, in Rome, Italy; daughter of Pietro Angelo and Silvana (Bazzoni) Bartoli. Education: Attended Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome, Italy. Addresses: Record company--Decca Broadway, 825 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019. Website--Cecilia Bartoli Official Website:

The exceptionally talented mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has had critics raving and opera fans flocking to her concerts since she began her career in the mid-1980s. She is the rarest of creatures, press reports say, a coloratura mezzo. Opera lovers call Bartoli's voice a gift, something that comes along only once a generation. Newsweek's Katrine Ames raved: "She has a voice that bubbles up through three and a half octaves, and runs down like rich, warm brandy, the range matched by breakneck agility and breathtaking fioriture." Linda Blandford of the New York Times noted: "[Her voice] is all of one piece, seamless, as vibrant at the top as it is on the bottom." Still going strong into the 2000s, Bartoli continued to rack up astonishing record sales for a classical artist--more than 700,000 copies worldwide of her 1999 release, The Vivaldi Album by 2004. Her 2003 release, The Salieri Album, quickly shot to the top of the classical charts around the world.

Bartoli was born on June 4, 1966, in Rome, Italy, the daughter of professional singers, a lyric soprano and a dramatic tenor. To support the family (there are three children--a son and two daughters), Pietro Bartoli abandoned his solo career and joined the Rome Opera chorus. By all reports, he was a temperamental man and not easy to please. Bartoli told Blandford in the New York Times: "When I was young, I was always afraid of my father." The Bartoli household was far from wealthy. Shoes were passed from brother to sisters.

Bartoli's interest in music began when she was a child. She would go about the house imitating her mother's voice. Bartoli's mother trained her daughter to sing and today remains her only vocal teacher. Bartoli has said that her mother hated voices edged with rigidity and tension, and she credits her mother with helping her develop her agile singing style.

Performed at a Young Age

Bartoli's first public performance occurred at age nine when she sang the shepherd's song offstage at the Rome Opera during Puccini's Tosca. As a teenager, she grew disinterested in voice and considered becoming a flamenco dancer and then a trombone player. Eventually she returned to voice. As she observed to Newsweek's Ames: "Slowly, I got very passionate about it. When my voice started developing, it was such a strange feeling." At 17 she enrolled at the Academy of Saint Cecilia in Rome for further training.

Two years later talent scouts selected Bartoli to appear on Fantastico, a Rome television show starring two opera singers, Leo Nucci and Katia Ricciarelli. On the program, Bartoli sang the "Barcarolle" duet from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman and a duet from Rossini's The Barber of Seville. While she has acknowledged she was frightened at the time, Bartoli told Innaurato of Vanity Fair: "I had the good fortune to be seen by a big audience."

The exposure was just the career boost she needed. Bartoli soon debuted in The Barber of Seville in Rome. She was then given an audition before record producer Christopher Raeburn. He secured a deal for her to record The Barber of Seville and several Rossini arias. Raeburn later played Bartoli's tapes for agent Jack Mastroianni, a highly regarded agent with Columbia Artists Management. Mastroianni was so impressed he made arrangements to listen to Bartoli in person. Her mother accompanied the young singer to the audition. Mastroianni remembered the day to Blandford in the New York Times: "The intensity between the two women was so strong that it was as though musically they were a union, as though every breath the one took, the other took with her." Mastroianni liked what he heard and agreed to manage the unknown singer. As Blandford reported, "[He] became passionate on her behalf: he leaned on friends and longtime colleagues to hire her on his word."

Mastroianni also decided he would steer Bartoli's career away from operatic productions and concentrate instead on recitals. As Blandford noted: "Instead of a four-minute aria or two in which to make an opera debut, he gave her two hours in which to seduce."

Powerful Voice Proved Doubters Wrong

It was not easy at first finding places that would book Bartoli. As Mastroianni told Vanity Fair's Albert Innaurato: "They all said, 'When she's at the Met, come back.' They thought her voice was too small. They'd say, 'It has to be a big voice or it's no voice.'"

Some critics continue to argue that Bartoli's voice lacked the power to reach the back seats in an auditorium. Bartoli responded to the charge to Newsweek's Ames: "If you have agility, you don't have much volume. The most important thing isn't size, but projection. Some people have both, but they're gods." As Bartoli told Innaurato, "I am a singer of quality, not quantity. I am not worried about volume. I want to control the timbre, the nuance. In Italy there is a big obsession with a big voice. I prefer control. When the voice is big, it is not possible to play with it. Mine is a voice for those who know how to listen."

She made her American debut at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart concert in 1990. There she sang selections from Mozart's La clemenza di Tito and from Rossini's La Donna del Lago. Reviews were generally favorable for the new mezzo, and word began circulating about her. Bartoli soon made her Paris debut singing for the role of Cherubino in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.

Because her voice is so well suited to the flourishes and scale runs of Rossini and Mozart, the two composers have become her favorites to sing and record. Bartoli discussed her opinions of them with Matthew Gurewitsch of the New York Times: "Rossini is more spicy, more of the earth. Mozart is sweeter, more spiritual, an angel from paradise. Rossini is pure virtuosity. Mozart is more legato; his music needs more support, more control. It's harder for me." Gurewitsch commented: "The effort does not show." After Bartoli performed at an all-Rossini recital in New York in the spring of 1992, critic Allan Kozinn observed in the New York Times: "Her technical assets are considerable. Her scale passages, runs, roulades and trills are cleanly and precisely articulated. She uses her vibrato selectively and thoughtfully, rather than just lavishing it uniformly on everything she sings. The sound she produces is smooth and strong throughout her range, particularly at the top, and her coloristic sense is impeccable."

Made Her Operatic Debut

Critics and fans began clamoring for Bartoli to sing a major operatic role. She had performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in three Mozart operas in 1992, but, as reviews noted, this was an orchestra, not a opera company. In April of 1993 Bartoli made her operatic stage debut as Rosina in the Houston Grand Opera's production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville. The hype surrounding her helped the Houston company sell out all seven shows, one month before opening night. William Spiegelman of the Wall Street Journal commented on her Houston performance: "Displaying the instincts of a born actress, [Bartoli] expresses Rosina's mercurial temperament with her whole body: Eyes, hands, feet (she studied flamenco as a teenager) work together to create a character who can be alternately docile or dangerous, a kitten or a lynx, depending on her mood."

Interviewers who have met Bartoli in person comment on her playfulness and her down-to-earth personality. "She is a natural comedian," Innaurato wrote, adding that "her features are so mobile that her eyes manage nuances within nuances. Her mouth footnotes, italicizes, and sometimes contradicts her words. Bartoli the singer can manage impressive staccati--rapid notes sung detached up and down the scale. Cecilia the person also has a staccato; she can touch rapidly on a dozen moods in half a second, leaving her interlocutor charmed but a little behind and slightly off-balance."

Bartoli's recordings continue to sell well, and shrewd marketing hasn't hurt. Her first solo recording, Rossini Arias, released in 1989, featured her posed provocatively in a black lace dress and red gloves. The public responded. One of her later recordings, If You Love Me, hit the top of Billboard's classical chart in 1993 and stayed there for months.

The Stereo Review commentary about this recording of 17th- and 18th-century Italian songs reflects the general reaction to the work: "Immerse yourself in Bartoli's recital and savor her singing. This captivating young artist never allows monotony to set in: Her light, dusky mezzo-soprano enfolds these lovely songs in caressingly warm and purely focused tones free of excessive vibrato. They flow with an unforced naturalness, and the decorative passages (Lotti's Pur Dicesti is a good example) are delivered with unostentatious ease. Bartoli's art combines simplicity and sophistication. The passion in her singing is conveyed with a Baroque sensibility, with unfailing taste, and, whenever the texts call for it (as in the Paisiello operas), with an enlivening spark of humor."

In reviewing Bartoli's various recitals and opera recordings, Matthew Gurewitsch observed in the New York Times: "As total performances, the opera sets cannot be recommended, but that is no fault of her [own]: against the rest of the unimpressive cast in The Barber [of Seville], her Rosina sparkles; in [Daniel] Barenboim's leaden treatments, she is the bright spot; her rhetorical fire even sets Mr. [Nikolaus] Harnoncourt's grim, Prussian performance momentarily ablaze. The recitals, though, are altogether bewitching."

A Unique Personality

Bartoli's formidable talent is enhanced by her striking appearance. Martha Duffy described the singer in Time: "Her dark good looks project grandly across the footlights: a mane of lustrous hair, huge brown eyes, a generous mouth and milky shoulders that enhance a decolletage." Reports often refer to her melodious, easy laugh, her stable temperament and her "Italianness." She is considered unique in the opera world for her admiration of motorcycles, rock groups like Led Zeppelin, and jazz great Ella Fitzgerald.

When asked why she sings, Bartoli told Vanity Fair's Innaurato: "My parents, my character, and God. I sing because I sing, not to earn money. I love music, not the business." Nevertheless, she has said she knows how she must proceed with her career because she has lived with singers all of her life. "I've been in the front row."

If doubt remains about the depth of Bartoli's talent, the undecided may wish to consider music critic Peter G. Davis's comments, as quoted in Vanity Fair: "Every time I've heard her, she has been even better. She has sumptuous tone, dazzling coloratura, and is a wonderful musician. She's been hyped like everybody else, but she actually is the real thing."

With her popularity stronger than ever in the 2000s, Bartoli enjoys the luxury of turning down as many offers to record and perform as she accepts. With her albums, recorded exclusively for the Decca record label, topping charts around the world, she can afford to be choosy. "I make a recording only when I feel it's worth doing," she explained to the Knight Ridder Tribune News Service's John von Rhein. She also prefers not to travel by plane, making her relatively infrequent appearances abroad even more special.

by Carol Hopkins and Michael Belfiore

Cecilia Bartoli's Career

First sang professionally on television in Rome, mid-1980s; made American debut at the Mostly Mozart Festival, 1990; made Paris stage debut as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro; made La Scala (Milan, Italy) debut in Rossini's Le Comte Ory, 1990; sang roles of Cherubino in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and Dorabella in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1992; made American operatic stage debut with the Houston Grand Opera singing Rosina in Rossini's The Barber of Seville, 1993; made New York Metropolitan Opera debut as Despina in The Marriage of Figaro, 1996; debuted at London's Royal Opera, 2001; recorded more than 20 albums for the Decca label by 2003.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 15 years ago

I just saw her tonight 3/3/09 in Carnegie Hall, and she was spectacular. Love you Cecilia