Café Mouffe: Cecilia Bartoli

Set 1: Cecilia Bartoli sings Vivaldi.

OK, lounge lizards, listen up. A little high culture won’t kill you. Jazz has its precedents. Charles Mingus grooved on Debussy and Rachmaninoff. Coltrane didn’t just leap into Giant Steps. He cribbed those far-out chords from Nicholas Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. So this week’s Mouffe features some vocal pyrotechnics that would make Ella Fitzgerald wonder, “Is it Cecilia, or Memorex?” Such operatic orgies were improvised in Mozart’s time. Consider it to be scat singing in an Enlightenment mode.

There are precedents, too, for grand opera in little cafés. In my wayward youth I made a pilgrimage to Caffe Trieste in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. The crema was primo, and Caruso blasted from the jukebox. Everyone sat at communal plank tables. Everyone looked like a poet. Everyone scribbled self-consciously on napkins or notebooks. I did, too, though I couldn’t see what I scrawled.

In that same wayward youth I sometimes predicted, “Someday I’ll devote myself to tea roses and opera, but I’m not there yet.” In time both passions smote me. I grow heirloom roses, not hybrid teas, and I mood-swing through grandly unpredictable operatic intervals triggered by the chanciest of encounters. Cecilia Bartoli’s tribute to Maria Malibran may herald the latest swing.

It isn’t the first time Cecilia has done that for me. Her collection of 18th-century Italian songs, If You Love Me (Se tu m’ami ), was the vocal beacon that led me to opera. It remains one of my most favorite recordings. This time around, Cecilia is my gateway to an entire YouTube sub-genre that I hadn’t even imagined — opera clips! Even the high culture folks want to rip, burn, and share their favs.

Set 2: Cecilia Bartoli sings Salieri. If anyone can tell me where this video comes from, I’d love to know. The end surprised me — listen to this diva laugh!

Set 3: Cecilia Bartoli sings Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate. Just try to stay in your seat after experiencinging this. Bravo! Shower the stage with roses!

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