Shadow rice noodles

Just came back from breakfast: a $5 pancake fundraiser at our local firestation down the street. It was great: I wish they would do it every Saturday, so that we could walk to pancakes weekly.

We went to see Cecilia Bartoli on Thursday. I had bought the tickets with an eye to scalping them. I got one offer, but it was 3 hours before curtain time. We drove ourselves up to Berkeley, figuring if we could sell them in front of the theater, we would take the proceeds and go have dinner at Sea Salt.
Being somewhat reticient, we didn’t sell the tickets and went in the concert ourselves.
For which I’m really glad. It was awesome.
I really wish my grand-dad could have been there.

I’ve seen Cecilia Bartoli a couple of times before, and like Prince, she never puts on a bad show. It’s one thing to buy a CD of hers and play it on the stereo; it’s a complete mind-boggling relevation to see-hear en vivo the hypnotic voice, the coloratura, the shimmering highs and the expression that comes out of those human vocal cords. Not to mention the facial and body language. Why does she wear a dress with such a huge long train? I think it’s because she’s so giddy with emotion, she needs to be weighed down, lest she bubble up and away into the air, following her notes.

I’d never heard any of these songs before, but with a glance at the program’s English translation of the lyrics, I could understand what she was singing about viscerally: exultant, melancholy, resignation, triumphant.

“I didn’t realise she was so large,” whispered Joe. “Well, she needs a structure sturdy enough to contain those lusty lungs.”
Bartoli is often shown in headshots (hence Joe’s impression), but she’s “babe” enough to considered one of the most pretty opera stars right now. She’s Italian; with the exagerated emotions that you associate with the stereotypes of her contrymen; which would be considered cheesey on TV shows, but entirely appropriate on stage in an opera house. She’s very girlish; yet somehow I can imagine her knocking back a couple tankards of ale and then kicking some guy’s butt at pool.

Somewhat like Yo-Yo Ma, she’s pushing for new things in classsical music, in this case, ‘rediscovering’ 18th century pieces that no one does anymore. She’s a big enough star that she doesn’t need to rely on old chestnuts, and her reputation ensures that everyone will pay attention to the music she’s plugging.
This tour is a promotion for her latest disc “Prohibited Opera.” Apparently for the first decade in the 1700’s, the pope banned opera in Rome. Apparently, he felt it was leading to too much indulgence and sinning, but people managed to find ways around it, i.e. by producing ‘religious’ music. It made me think of the Prohibition in the 1920’s on alcohol. I just can’t believe music was ever banned!!

During this musical prohibition, female performers were also banned, so all the songs the Bartoli sang that night were originally performed by castrati, males who were castrated so they could sing soprano. There was a certain irony: seeing the abundantly female Bartoli perform songs originally sung by male eunuchs. I wonder what, if anything she thinks about the gender issues of this? I wonder what it would be like to see an effeminate fop perform those songs today?

The concert started at 7 PM, which is an hour earlier than usual. My guess was that they built in time for the encores and curtain calls; which the last time I saw Bartoli perform, lasted 30-45 minutes! This time, it was shorter, 3 songs in about 15 minutes. Maybe it’s because she had a cold (which I could not detect in her singing). But the nice thing is she announced what she was going to sing each time in the encore: one of which sounded like “Ombra mi fune.” Ombra is ‘shadow’ in Spanish and maybe Italian too. ‘Mi fune’ sounds like Chinese for rice noodles. Hence the title of this blog piece!

I wanted to go and buy the CD afterwards, but now I think I might be disappointed by it, after having seen her perform live.

Viva Cecilia!

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