SALZBURG, Austria — Cecilia Bartoli has a favorite role she wished she could sing.
“There is one character which I was always in love with since I started my Mozart career, and it’s Don Giovanni,” she said. “With me, you never know.”
She laughed at her thought of a baritone part. Now 57, the mezzo-soprano has highlighted 17th and 18th century music and is singing the lead in Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Eurydice, which opened Friday at the Salzburg Festival in modern-dress Cristof Loy production that has five performances through Aug. 14.
Bartoli has expanded into an administrative career, succeeding Riccardo Muti as artistic director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival in 2012 and in January became director of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo.
“After 35 years of singing, I think it’s a great challenge,” she said. “When you are the performer, you are concentrating in your music,” she said. “You don’t know exactly the other artists, what are their needs. Everybody’s different, has a different body, has a different way of reacting about stress. Each artist has a different way to see that.”
Bartoli made her opera debut in 1987 and gained recognition for her work in Rossini and Mozart. She has excelled in Baroque roles that veered from the mainstream, releasing recordings devoted to 19th century soprano Maria Malibran, castrati and composers Antonio Salieri and Agostino Steffani.
“She’s not only a fantastic singer, a fantastic musician, she’s one of the few artists in this region — where the air is quite thin,” Salzburg Festival artistic director Markus Hinterhäuser said. “Her knowledge and her interest in questions of music is absolutely amazing, And also, she’s very, very brave.”
She selects the operas she stars in for a pair of performances at the Whitsun Festival each year in late May and early June, a production that returns for the main summer festival. She has worked in recent years with conductor Gianluca Capuano, and for “Orfeo” picked Loy, who paired with set designer Johannes Leiacker for a minimalist staging dominated by stairs that looked like the lobby of a museum or a courthouse. Loy also directed Bartoli in a 2017 staging of Handel’s “Ariodante” in Salzburg.
“It is fascinating to do a male character because for a long time in during my career I did always women’s roles,” she said.
Ursula Renzenbrink costumed Bartoli in a dark suit and turtleneck for the trousers role of Orfeo, who is allowed by Amore (Madison Nonoa) to retrieve his wife Euridice (Mélissa Petit) from the underworld on the condition he not look at her until they return to Earth. The dance-heavy opera is presented over 90 minutes without intermission and Bartoli is on stage for almost the entire performance.
Bartoli goes her own way. She hates flying and hasn’t appeared at the Metropolitan Opera since 1998 or Carnegie Hall since 2009.
“The fact that I don’t like flying somehow preserved my voice,” she said. “Because when you fly it, you go from one place to there, ping-pong, and then you get tired, your body gets tired.”
Next January Bartoli will sing Cleopatra in Handel’s “Giulio Cesare in Egitto (Julius Ceasar in Egypt)” at Monte Carlo in a Davide Livermore staging that will travel in July to the Vienna State Opera in the work’s first performances there since 1960. Her season includes Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers)” at the Zurich Opera in December and January plus concerts across Europe that include joint appearances with actor John Malkovich in Monte Carlo, Versailles and Vienna.
She scheduled 20 performances of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” from Dec. 16-31 in Monte Carlo at a building designed by Charles Garnier, the architect of the famous Paris opera house. And she’s working on programming future seasons in Monte Carlo.
“It’s a great challenge,” she said. “I like the idea of continuing this for other artists.”
When she’s home, Bartoli veers into unexpected territory.
“In the shower, I can sing pop music,” Bartoli said. “It really depends on the day and the mood.”