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For Bartoli, Rise to Superstardom Proceeds <i> Allegro</i> : Opera: Despite a busy schedule, including a Costa Mesa recital this week, the 29-year-old mezzo is taking life in stride.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The musical world is at her feet. At 29, she’s on the cusp of superstardom. Even the most dour critics--not to mention time itself -- seem to be on her side.

So what’s next for mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli? Besides, that is, her upcoming Metropolitan Opera debut, her Carnegie Hall recital debut, about half a dozen new recordings--and a recital Thursday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Sept. 21, 1995 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 21, 1995 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 3 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Opera-- A story in Wednesday’s Calendar erroneously stated that Cecilia Bartoli’s recital tonight at the Orange County Performing Arts Center is her only Southern California appearance this season. She also sang under the auspices of the San Diego Opera on Sunday.

She’s going to get a life.

“I think now I have a project only to work six months [a year],” Bartoli said, in her slightly fractured English, by phone from her home in Rome. “I will only sing six months, then six months for study and holidays.”

As for how she’ll spend the leisurely half of her year, she’ll play that, well, by ear.

“I start next year, then I tell you,” Bartoli said with a laugh.

“I don’t like to plan the private life,” she said, adding that at present she has no private life. “I have to be planning all the rest, three months ahead, three years even! The Metropolitan, this debut was planned three years ago!”

At her sold-out recital this week--her only 1995-96 appearance in Southern California--Bartoli will sing works by Berlioz, Bizet, Ravel and Viardot (possibly previewing a planned recording of songs by those composers with conductor Myung-Whun Chung on piano), and her calling-card Rossini. Pianist Steven Blier will accompany.

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For her first engagement at the Metropolitan Opera, in February, she will play the role of Despina in Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte.” Isn’t it an odd choice? After all, it’s not the lead, and it’s a soprano role; Bartoli is a mezzo, and can probably have any part she wants.

“I like this role very much,” she said. “There is so much recitative, it’s important to [be able to] play with the words.” As to the vocal range--Bartoli’s is about 3 1/2 octaves--she said, “These differences were not so clear in the 18th Century. Cherubino [in “Le Nozze di Figaro”] is also a soprano, not a mezzo, but usually a mezzo sings Cherubino. . . .”

Bartoli has in fact performed the role of Despina often in Europe--for instance, last year in a new production with Riccardo Muti at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien. Perhaps that is one reason she betrays a degree of nonchalance about the Met debut.

“It’s very exciting, I can’t wait,” she said, “but I don’t feel really it’s a debut. I’ve done many concerts in New York. It’s nice--I don’t feel the pressure of the first time, and this is very important. Usually it’s the contrary.” Her Carnegie Hall performance (she has sung there before, but never in recital), with pianist Andras Schiff, follows the Met debut by a month.

It was Bartoli’s collaboration with Schiff on an album of Italian art songs, “The Impatient Lover,” that garnered the pair this year’s Grammy Award for best classical vocal album. In 1993, with five solo albums among the top 15 best-selling classical albums on the Billboard charts in North America, Bartoli was named Billboard’s Artist of the Year.

In the works are another half-dozen albums, including a solo album of Bellini and Donizetti with Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine on piano; the French album with Chung, and one of Spanish songs with pianist Alicia de Larrocha.

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The Spanish connection is a strong one. Bartoli’s one big passion, aside from singing, has been flamenco dancing, which she also studied seriously. “But then I was so busy,” she explained, “I decided to stop. But it’s still a passion.”

Carmen, anyone?

“I would like it one day if possible--we’ll see,” Bartoli said. “It’s one possibility. If not, it’s OK. What is really most important, I need to find the right director and the right conductor--and the right Don Jose, too! It is not easy to find these three very fine complements.”

Both of Bartoli’s parents sang in choruses. Since she was 16, she has studied voice only with her mother, Silvana--and Silvana has taught singing only to her daughter.

“The only one, oh yes, oh yes,” Bartoli said. “I would like it if there is another young talent [with my mother], but she says, ‘Oh, no-no-no-no, it’s too much responsibility! With my daughter, OK, but another, no.’ ”

Despite her success, Bartoli, it seems, hasn’t acquired much in the way of diva trappings. “I still have my Alfa Romeo, the same one,” she said of the red Spider she bought eight years ago. “Now I also start to enjoy to go by bicycle. And to take boats--it’s different.”

All in all, she’s a little old-fashioned when it comes to transportation. She especially doesn’t like to fly, and to get from New York to Los Angeles this trip, she will travel, with her mother, in a private train car attached to Amtrak trains.

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The outsize stardom of, say, the tenorissimos , and their stadium antics, are the farthest things from her mind:

“Well, I tell you, my repertory is more for close opera, more intimate, not for the open air.” Anyway, she chuckled, “There is only the three tenors. Three sopranos, it is not possible.”

Tempering all such responses is a feet-on-the-ground perspective.

“I just like music,” she said. “In the real way, in the correct size, you know?”

With an easy, refreshing laugh always close at hand, Bartoli seems--but can’t possibly be, with the pressures at hand--completely carefree. But those pressures meant that our interview had been limited in advance, and a glance at the clock conspired to bring the conversation to a close.

Said Bartoli graciously, “On the telephone is not easy. It would be better if you were here.”

No fooling.

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