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"I am my own impresaria"

She looks good! Wearing wide, cognac-colored silk trousers and a tight but interestingly folded blazer in light gray, she staggers onto the stage on similarly colored pumps with a bobbing ponytail.

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"I am my own impresaria"

She looks good! Wearing wide, cognac-colored silk trousers and a tight but interestingly folded blazer in light gray, she staggers onto the stage on similarly colored pumps with a bobbing ponytail. This is nothing new for Cecilia Bartoli. After all, she has been doing this as a mezzo-soprano for more than three decades.

Here, in the gold stucco hall of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo – the only theater that Charles Garnier designed apart from the Paris Opéra – she performed for the first time in 1989 in front of just 524 spectators that can be seated here. She was Rosina in Rossini's “Barbiere di Siviglia”. “I was 22 at the time – and surrounded by legendary singers,” she recalls.

Cecilia Bartoli is now entering this stage, which will be hers from January 1, 2023, not as a singer, but as an artistic director. Narrow glasses adorn her nose as she introduces her first season. She is not alone. Conductor Gianluca Capuano, who divides his career life into a period “before and with Cecilia”, is there, as well as incumbent artistic director Jean-Louis Grinda, a real Monegasque who has worked here since 2007, her longtime press lady and, perhaps most importantly, the presenting Swiss bass-baritone Oliver Widmer – her husband for eleven years.

He is now not only sitting next to her on the podium for the first time and initially speaking. He acts alongside his artistic director as directeur délégué, as managing director. "Oliver has actually always been that during my career," she says a little later, "but this time we wanted it to be official. So that it is clear that he can represent me in everything if I am not there."

The miracle book Bartoli, it is about to open a new chapter. Actually not that new. For twelve years now, the busy artist, who of course determined the rules for herself very early on, has been directing the Salzburg Whitsun Festival, which blossomed under her as intelligently as she enjoyed himself, as a four-day sparkling exclusive music theater gem dedicated to her main repertoire, Baroque and Romantic.

Your name is always the program. The fans want and get Bartoli on stage. This will also be the case on the Côte d'Azur for the time being. In her first season she brings and sings Handel's "Alcina" (as a local premiere) and the "Barbiere". Cecilia Bartoli first wants to satisfy the hunger of the public, spread honey around the mouths of subscribers.

Monaco is not avant-garde. Here opera has to be famous, expensive and glamorous. And so there are mainly Italian delicacies: “Andrea Chénier” with Jonas Kaufmann, “La Traviata” with the Alfredo debut by Javier Camarena and Plácido Domingo. Daniel Barenboim, one of Bartoli's mentors, whose wife Yelena Bashkirova discovered the then 19-year-old for him at a French Callas homage on television, is said to play the piano. The Vienna State Opera, where she made her late stage debut this summer for days with half-hour encores in a "Rossiminania", accepts the return invitation with a concert version of "The Marriage of Figaro". And there is Monteverdi's "Orfeo" as a marionette theatre.

"Yes, I am ambitious," asserted the artistic director later. It is reminiscent of the legendary Romanian director Raoul Gunsbourg, who (with a break in the war) worked in Monte Carlo from 1892 to 1951 and premiered stage works by Berlioz, Mascagni, Massenet, Puccini, Saint-Saëns and Ravel.

Because this seemingly absurd opera house is an enchanting contradiction. On the one hand, there, in the same building as the casino, the roulette earnings are issued, on the other hand, it should provide the sophisticated, even artistic ambience to stimulate the players. In any case, everything here, including the adjacent luxury hotels, has long belonged to the Societé des bains de mer, which in turn is controlled by the Grimaldis.

Thus, Prince Albert II is probably the only potentate in the world who maintains a cultural establishment, and a flourishing one at that. The Orchester Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, the Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, founded in 1985, and the baroque troupe “Les Musiciens du Prince – Monaco” are also financed by Her Highness. And his sister Princess Caroline of Monaco presides over them.

"The Musiciens, that was my little back door here," explains Cecilia Bartoli about her Riviera connection. “When I was preparing my CD about baroque opera treasures in St. Petersburg from 2013, I first learned how many foreign Central Europeans worked there as composers, musicians and singers. And then the idea of ​​founding a court band again began to simmer in me.”

There are, she says, “not many sovereign princes anymore. And very few are really interested in art. I knew Jean Louis Grinda. And he thought the suggestion was so crazy that he thought it could be successful in Monte Carlo. In fact, the prince and princess quickly exchanged vows after an audition, and so the Musiciens du Prince – Monaco has existed since 2016.”

The extraordinarily clever Cecilia Bartoli, who was unyielding when it came to negotiating, also had her own set of instruments for her Salzburg festival. She now goes on tour with him exclusively. This season alone there are 17 concerts all over Europe (Asia and the USA she no longer likes to travel to, she doesn't like to fly). Bartoli, who has moved to Monte Carlo, sings operas exclusively in Salzburg, in Monte Carlo and in her old home in Zurich: "This opera house is my family, this is where I sang the most." That's why you see her at the beginning of her Monegasque Stage presentation also in filmed Zurich backstage impressions, before she, a huge pink, blue and white hydrangea arrangement next to her, takes the floor as the new director.

His own opera house now completes the Bartoli universe. "I myself am the last person to have believed that something like this would work, but it turned out stone by stone." That's true, but the skill, the vision, the tactical acumen, the curiosity and the business acumen, they all mix in this actually small but radiant person to a melange that is unique in the music world. She is also super charming. If she wants. So often. And when she's in a good mood, she sings. And everyone flows with joy, just like on this sunny September day in Monaco.

Cecilia Bartoli's new ambition: not just to do the expected. She would like to give the house a future through its creative past, cultivate more of the French repertoire, remember the deeds of Gunsbourg, whose magnificent castle in southern Burgundy she absolutely wants to see and be inspired by.

We've long been sitting in the bar of the cream-colored, Belle Époque-cuddly hotel "Eremitage" with the Gustave-Eiffel iron-glass dome above the breakfast room. She gave her interviews, posed for the TV crews and was approachable as the new boss. Now Cecilia Bartoli, now bright pink, lets the ice click in a glass of water and talks – about old age.

"I'm 56, I know that very well. With the festival and now the opera house, I'm basically continuing what I started long ago with my concept albums. I question the repertoire and the company.”

She was, she says, like the castrati often used to be, “for a long time my own impresaria. I don't know where that comes from, actually the other actors were in my family, the singer's parents, my sister, my brother. I absorbed all the madness of opera when I was a child, only became more extroverted and conscious in a flamenco troupe.”

Four gentlemen in their prime taught her a few things later, but soon enough. In addition to Daniel Barenboim, there were the Vienna Konzerthaus and later Zurich Opera House director Alexander Pereira, who then offered her the direction of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival, the Decca producer Christopher Raeburn - and Nikolaus Harnoncourt: "He has eyes for early music for me and ears opened.”

The day was long. "You know, I was never allowed to sleep in before, now I can sometimes. But then I wake up and I keep thinking about music.” And roles. “I just learned with Rosina, which I sang for the first time when I was 19, that the voice is still intact. The Rosina was so much more fun now. A few more mature women are still waiting. Handel's Agrippina, Vivaldi's Judith. Carmen maybe. I missed Monteverdi's Poppea, but there's still his Ottavia. Or the Dulcinea in Massenet's 'Don Quichotte', which premiered here. It's not getting boring yet."

The car is there. It's going to the beach club. The "Magic Flute" cercle, the most exclusive circle of friends of the opera in Monte Carlo, has invited her to a dinner by the sea. Here you are already happy when she is there, applauding the musical performances. She doesn't have to talk, doesn't have to charm sponsors, although she also masters this keyboard perfectly.

Cecila Bartoli, now also director, can do undisturbed and extensively next to her husband what she enjoys most besides singing – discussing musical plans. Passionate, smart, devoted. And the stars over the Mediterranean are twinkling.

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