Fedora Barbieri and Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-sopranos born on June 4, could not be more diametrically opposed from a vocal standpoint.
Unlike the past few articles showcasing two birthday-sharing singers together to see how their careers feature numerous similar roles, this article, which features two Italian mezzos, has none. At all.
Bartoli and Barbieri never sang the same roles. They only have one opera they share in common, but even then, thanks to some bold artistry from Bartoli, they sing different roles. For those keeping track, that opera is “Norma.” Bartoli famously recorded the title role of the opera despite tradition seeing sopranos taking on the lead role.
Barbieri’s own involvement in “Norma” is also quite legendary. The eternal friend of superstar soprano Maria Callas, Barbieri was Adalgisa in Callas’ Metropolitan Opera debut.
But that aside, there is no overlap. So instead, let’s just delve a bit into what made (or makes in the case of Bartoli) these artists so special in the history of opera.
Born in 1920, the Italian mezzo dominated the dramatic repertoire. She was the Eboli of her time and one of the great Verdi mezzos of her day. Other major roles for her included Azucena in “Il Trovatore,” Mistress Quickly in “Falstaff,” Ulrica in “Un Ballo in Maschera,” and Amneris in “Aida.” She also took on operas by Puccini and Ponchielli, among others.
You won’t catch Bartoli anywhere near a Verdi or Puccini opera (though she does appear on the Freni-Pavarotti “Manon Lescaut” in a bit part), just as you wouldn’t expect to hear Barbieri singing Rossini or Mozart or any baroque opera. Bartoli, of course, has made a career out of dominating the Mozart and much of the Rossini repertoire, particularly “La Cenerentola.” She has never shied away from a massive challenge, as evidenced by her “Norma” and “Sonnambula” interpretations, and she even took on Cleopatra in “Giulio Cesare.” All three of those roles are usually associated with sopranos.