On 'Farinelli,' Opera Star Cecilia Bartoli Pays Homage To A Baroque Castrato : Deceptive Cadence On her new album, the restless Italian opera star sings virtuoso music composed for Farinelli, the greatest of the baroque castratos.
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Powerful Lungs And Long-Spun Lines: Cecilia Bartoli Conjures Farinelli

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Powerful Lungs And Long-Spun Lines: Cecilia Bartoli Conjures Farinelli

Review

Powerful Lungs And Long-Spun Lines: Cecilia Bartoli Conjures Farinelli

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  • Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The opera star Cecilia Bartoli doesn't sing many of the popular 19th century operas. Instead, she prefers to explore the little-known corners of the 18th century.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CECILIA BARTOLI: (Singing in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: Bartoli's new album is devoted to music written for the singer named Farinelli, the rock star of his day. NPR's Tom Huizenga has this review.

TOM HUIZENGA, BYLINE: Farinelli reportedly could sing 250 notes on a single breath. Cecilia Bartoli can't quite match that, but on her new album titled "Farinelli," she undeniably gives it her best shot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NELL' ATTENDERE MIO BENE")

BARTOLI: (Vocalizing).

HUIZENGA: Bartoli has an amazingly agile voice and a whole lot of breath control. There was a different reason why Farinelli could do what he did. He was a castrato. That means he was castrated before puberty. It was barbaric, yet it wasn't an uncommon procedure for young talented Italian boys, and it lasted well into the 19th century. There's even a recording of the so-called last castrato, Alessandro Moreschi, made in 1902.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOMINE SALVUM FAC")

ALESSANDRO MORESCHI: (Singing in non-English language).

HUIZENGA: The voices of castrati remained in the upper register as they grew into adulthood. And by that time, Farinelli was the most revered singer in Europe, performing for kings and visited by Mozart. He had an exceptional lung capacity, which allowed him to sing for long stretches on a single breath, as Bartoli does here for nearly 30 seconds.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA FESTA D'IMENEO")

BARTOLI: (Singing in non-English language).

HUIZENGA: Those long, arching lines were written for Farinelli in 1736 by his mentor, the composer Nicola Porpora. And Bartoli offers her signature command of the emotionally charged line.

Bartoli has sold over 12 million records. She's won five Grammys and could easily put her career on autopilot, but, no. She calls herself the Indiana Jones of classical music, digging for antiquities, like this sparkling aria from Porpora's 1735 opera "Polifemo," which has never before been recorded.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONTAN DAL SOLO E CARO")

BARTOLI: (Singing in non-English language).

HUIZENGA: Bartoli's voice, after three decades of singing, is surprisingly intact. Even if a little of the creaminess of the early years has leached out and occasional transitions between registers are less liquid, the flexibility and the excitement are still there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALTO GIOVE")

BARTOLI: (Singing in non-English language).

HUIZENGA: The album "Farinelli" isn't the first time Bartoli has celebrated the castrati. In 2009, she released "Sacrificium," which pictured Bartoli's head artfully photoshopped to ancient marble statues of men. And on the new album, she again flirts with gender fluidity. The photos find Bartoli in full beard, mustache and dark eyeliner, easily out-Depping Johnny Depp. And that's what we should love about Cecilia Bartoli, a restless artist unafraid to push her voice and a few boundaries.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARTOLI: (Singing in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: The new album is called "Farinelli." Our reviewer is NPR's Tom Huizenga.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARTOLI: (Singing in non-English language).

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