Cecilia Bartoli has been absent from U.S. stages for more than five years, but as the famously vivacious Italian mezzo-soprano tells it, it's not because she didn't want to cross the Atlantic.
In 2012, she accepted a leadership role at the Salzburg Festival in Austria, which has curtailed her international travels. "But, in fact, I've been missing coming to the States," she said by phone from her home in Zurich, Switzerland.
"I was performing in the States quite a lot in the '90s — at the Metropolitan Opera, and I was in California for many recitals," she recalled.
Bartoli will mark her return to the U.S. when she kicks off a three-city California tour starting March 21 at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The recital tour will also take her to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa and Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley.
The mezzo-soprano will be performing a mostly Baroque program culled in large part from her 2009 Grammy Award-winning album "Sacrificium," in which she sings works originally intended to be performed by castrati, or male singers who were castrated at a young age to preserve their boyish voices.
"There will be some slow arias, but also some pyrotechnic arias," Bartoli said. "The castrati had to show a lot of versatility, and I will try to re-create that.
"I'm going to bring some incredible dresses. It's going to be theatrical, a real show."
Among A-list opera stars, Bartoli is known for her sunny and gregarious personality, which she says forges a connection with California audiences.
"In California, I have the feeling they listen, share and enjoy, and share this enjoyment with no problem," she said. "It's a spontaneous way of reacting. The spontaneity is important."
Bartoli said she divides her time between Switzerland, where her husband is from, and Italy. There have been long-held rumors that the singer intensely dislikes air travel and that this at least partly explains her absence from the U.S.
"I'm not a fan of flying," she said with a laugh. "You get bored. People are telling you what to do: Now it's time to sleep. Now it's time to eat."
In the past, she has traveled to the U.S. on the Queen Elizabeth II and traveled across the country by train and car. But she said she has recently flown, including trips to Australia and China.
For her California tour, Bartoli will perform at the Broad on March 21 and 26; at the Segerstrom on March 23 in a presentation by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County; and at Zellerbach Hall on March 31 and April 2 in a presentation by Cal Performances.
The singer said she would like to return to the U.S. in a full-scale opera production one day, but no formal announcements have been made.
"It would be nice to come back with a stage performance, bel canto would be fine. Or Baroque, like [Handel's] 'Giulio Cesare.' I hope it will be soon."