Founded by ABBA’s manager, the Polar Prize goes Italian opera singer and anti-diva Cecilia Bartoli, a true all-rounder in the music world. Katy Perry composer Max Martin takes home the pop award.
How does a soprano screw in a light bulb? She stands on the ladder, holds up the bulb – and the world revolves around her.
Along the lines of that old musicians’ joke, Cecilia Bartoli is the anti-diva, the antithesis of the singer who’s either overweight or anorexic, lives only in, by and for the art and – depending on the severity of her neurotic episodes – tends to cancel on short notice. Hard-working and with both feet on the ground, gregarious and sociable, with an apparently healthy emotional and private life and a love of discovery, this mezzo-soprano defies the clichés.
Karajan, Barenboim and Harnoncourt were the big names Bartoli didn’t need to court in her early years: they, instead, actively sought her out.
Having turned 50 on June 4, Bartoli remains one of the world’s most sought-after operatic stars and has sold over 10 million recordings – even conquering territory in the international pop charts.
Adding to her collection of 10 Echos and five Grammys, she now takes the Polar Music Prize, which comes with a cash award of one million Swedish crowns ($119,000) and is handed over on Thursday (16.06.16) in Stockholm’s Konserthuset by Swedish King Carl XVI Gustav.
Recipe for success: a singer who is also a human being
The native of Rome had professional singers as parents and only one teacher: her mother. As a teenager, she wanted to be a flamenco dancer or a trombone player, but singing won out in the end. Today she appears most often at the Zurich Opera. Living nearby with her husband, Swiss baritone Oliver Widmer, she told the German Press Agency in 2008, “I still succeed in keeping my profession separate from my private life.”
Defying marketing strategies, “I make a recording only when I feel it’s worth doing,” Bartoli explained in an interview with the Knight Ridder Tribune News Service. Her releases often include obscure material. “I know nothing more exciting in music than researching, working in archives and libraries, digging up forgotten pieces, even entire repertories,” she told the German newspaper “Die Zeit” in June 2016.
Antonio Vivaldi is one example, a composer known best in connection with his instrumental concertos, like “The Four Seasons.” But Cecilia Bartoli’s “The Vivaldi Album” of 1999 explored the Italian as a composer of vocal works. It sold over 700,000 copies in five years. Other albums followed, similarly trailblazing and successful, with arias of the composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, the legendary castrato Farinelli and Bartoldi’s personal 19th-century hero, the mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran.
2012 marked a further step in Bartoli’s career, as director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival. Following a production of Handel’s opera, “Julius Caesar in Egypt,” came Bellini’s “Norma” and, in 2016, Bernstein’s “West Side Story” – with Cecilia Bartoli singing in all three. Her contract with the festival was recently extended until 2021.
Now the Polar Music Prize
Established in 1989 by Stig Anderson, the late manager of the pop group ABBA, the award is intended “to break down musical boundaries by bringing together people from all the different worlds of music.”
Also honored this year is Max Martin, 45, a composer of songs made popular by artists such as Bon Jovi, the Backstreet Boys, Katy Perry and Britney Spears.
Honoring classical, jazz and pop musicians is in the tradition of this award, whose previous recipients include Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, Quincy Jones and Keith Jarrett, Pierre Boulez and Steve Reich. On the occasion, Bartoli declared, “It is a great honor to be a laureate together with my very huge idols.”