Italy may be the spiritual home of opera, but one of its most famous divas, Cecilia Bartoli, says she's in despair over the state of music and culture in her native land. The Rome-born mezzo-soprano recently told the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspeigel that opera in Italy is a "disaster" and that the cultural system is on the brink of collapse.
Asked if she might consider a benefit concert for the Opera di Roma, where she sang the Shepherd Boy in Tosca at age 8, she said, "To fix the opera in Rome, one person is not enough; it would take an entire army. The opera houses in Italy, and I say this in grief, are in a dreadful state. The San Carlo in Naples is one of the most beautiful theaters in the world. Now there are perhaps 20 performances there a season; otherwise the house stands empty.
"Opera in Italy is a museum with dusty exhibits," she continued. "To think it was once the land of the greatest composers, artists and singers! I hardly set foot there anymore. Organizing a tour in Italy is a nightmare. Up to the last minute it's always "yes," "no." This is no way for us to attract a public. But we're in a state of paralysis and in no position to do anything to fight it, to free ourselves from lethargy. One could even call it a coma."
Bartoli also discussed her long absence from the operatic stage in the German capital. She said that she had not appeared at the Staatsoper since 2000 only because her repertoire and that of the house haven't coincided. She insisted that there had been no falling out between her and the theater and said she would like to sing there again if the right role is offered. She did point out, however, that she limits herself to two opera productions per year, with the rest of her performance schedule devoted to concerts.
Bartoli's newest project is a tribute to one of her idols, the 19th-century mezzo Maria Malibran, a mega-star in her day. Due out this month, Maria is a book-CD-DVD package that explores Malibran's extraordinary influence on such composers as Rossini and Bellini and the development of the bel canto style. It also includes a look at Bartoli's own extensive collection of Malibran artifacts — a number of which she has put into a small "mobile Malibran Museum" that arrives in Berlin on October 18.
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It's Tristan, Tristan, Tristan for bass Ren_ Pape. Fresh off summertime appearances as King Marke in four performances of Tristan und Isolde at England's Glyndebourne Festival, Pape headed to Japan this month to sing the role again on tour with the Berlin State Opera and Daniel Barenboim. Then in November, it's off to Munich to sing Marke again with the Bavarian State Opera and Kent Nagano.
A busy winter and spring see Pape spending most of his time in Germany, where he will perform in Beethoven's Ninth, Verdi's Requiem and Don Carlo, and Mozart's Don Giovanni. The acclaimed singer finally crosses the Atlantic in May for his only U.S. opera appearances this season — three performances of Verdi's Macbeth under James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera. He follows that engagement with a concert performance of works by Mussorgsky at Carnegie Hall with the Met Orchestra and Valery Gergiev.
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Another well-known bass, Samuel Ramey, has reportedly inked a deal to write his memoirs. He will work with Jane Scovell, who has collaborated on books with Marilyn Horne, Ginger Rogers, Maureen Stapleton and others. The 67-year-old Ramey remains a fixture in many of the world's great houses despite his age. This month, he is singing the title role in Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov at the Teatro Real de Madrid and Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca at the Paris Opera. In December he begins a run of seven performances as Field Marshall Kutuzov in Prokofiev's War and Peace at the Met.
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Violinist Itzhak Perlman canceled several concerts this month, including appearances in central Pennsylvania and San Francisco, due to illness. His agent told reporters that Perlman's condition was not serious. Michael Tilson Thomas took over for Perlman in San Francisco, where Perlman was scheduled to conduct ... Pierre Boulez's Mahler cycle on Deutsche Grammophon comes to a close this month with the release of the Eighth Symphony ... Marin Alsop received several standing ovations at her first concert as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She also won over critics on both sides of the Atlantic. London's Telegraph, noting that she will be leaving the Bournemouth Symphony at the end of this year, said, "Bournemouth's loss is Baltimore's gain."