Bartoli returns to La Scala for 3-year Baroque project

MILAN — Mezzosoprano Cecilia Bartoli is returning to Milan's famed La Scala opera house next year for a three-year Baroque music collaboration, the opera house announced Thursday.

The program is part of general manager Alexander Pereira's focus on bringing neglected Italian musical traditions back to La Scala's stage, this time leveraging on his long friendship with Bartoli and her love of Baroque music repertoire.

"Baroque music has been in a certain sense somewhat forgotten in Italy. We live in Baroque cities. We breathe Baroque in Italy. For this it is interesting to bring back to light compositions and authors of Baroque musical scores," Bartoli told The Associated Press.

She called Baroque music, composed from the 17th century through the first half of the 18th, Italy's "cultural treasure, our immense treasure."

"When we think of Verdi, when we think of Puccini, we shouldn't forget that these composers became what they were, thanks to those who came before them," Bartoli said. "It is true, Mozart was a genius. But he had a composer like Hayden who was a big inspiration for him."

The Baroque program begins in 2019 with Handel's "Giulio Cesare in Egitto," followed by his "Semele" in 2020 and "Ariodante" in 2021. Pereira said he wants to bring the three productions to other Italian opera houses, in particular the San Carlo theater in Naples, known for its Baroque tradition.

"The biggest Baroque musicians and composers have passed through Naples," Bartoli said, citing as examples Nicola Antonio Propora and Domenico Scarlatti.

To woo Bartoli, Pereira said he first set up a group of La Scala musicians with period instruments, something the pair had done for a similar project when he was director of the Zurich Opera House.

Bartoli sang several times at La Scala in the 1990s; her last appearance was in 2012, when she was booed by the upper balconies of the tiered theater.

She said her long absences were due mostly to scheduling difficulties and commitments elsewhere, and the fact that the La Scala repertoire until recently focused largely on the 1800s.

"I already had many commitments in Salzburg, Zurich, Vienna. To be able to speak of a multi-year project, it is clear it couldn't be done right away," she said. "From 2019 I found free time."

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