Donatella Bartolomei –
Gothic opera, Jazz and masks of spirituality
By Martyn Schmidt
Donatella Bartolomei was born in 1972 in Florence, Italy. She currently lives in Milan. Donatella is a singer, actress and she teaches both singing and acting. She loves to describe herself as a »creator of worlds«, because her current artistic production explores voice and theatre experimentation, mixing music and art with spiritual and symbolic contents in an ongoing research for personal evolution. She is the director of her own »Dea Luna« piece, a fantastic voyage where she plays with masks, voices and sounds. As a teacher, she creates peculiar courses where her students work on the evolution of their own persona through vocal and theatrical training. Donatella is also a long-time jazz singer.
The vocal-only-album »Sacra Dea« by Italian singer and actress Donatella Bartolomei, turns out as an eccentric, opaque, gothic opera of adventurous voices. Combining the agressive darkness of Diamanda Galas and the sombre eroticism of Gitane Demone, this album stunningly mashes up opera and jazz singing, musical, soul music and gospel and sets everything up into a kinky, vocal music theatre. By blending spoken word, poetry, fantasy language and extended voice, Donatella puts everything on her own burlesque track. A psychocandy diva, Donatella changes masks, switches voices, shifts and toggles roles, moods and even gender – a theatrical vocal soundscape displaying pain and beauty, dream and trauma. Expressive and demanding, »Sacra dea« is a vocal jewel of blackly shimmering, dark poetry – including musical settings of works by Dante, Shakespeare and Gabriele DAnnunzio.
Listen to: »Scibili« from the album »Sacra dea« (atemwerft 2016)
„You have to discover the entire universe just by your voice“
What does the phenoma of voice mean to you? And what does your own private voice mean to you? If you, as a privat person, observe your voice – what can you see / hear in different situations?
The voice expresses emotions perfectly, it shows joy, pain, embarrassment and just any other mood. On a deeper level, the voice expresses our very essence, what we are, all of our different faces, even the most hidden ones. And going even deeper, it expresses our soul, it tells of ancient events, it unveils stories that are common to all of mankind and brings us back to the most archaic roots and origins of life. The voice comes through the breath and the breath is the first and at the same time the last act of our life. As for my voice, I can repeat what I just said in general, and I may add that it is the best way for me to express myself and it’s always been that way as long as I can remember.
You ask me about what differences I do notice in my voice in different situations… It is not an easy question for me to answer. Like I just said, the voice expresses any kind of emotion and this is actually what I notice in my own case as well.
Your project’s name »Voce Sacra« seems to give a hint to a spiritual connection between voice and holiness. Why do you consider especially voice as a spiritual item? In your esoteric studies, what connections between voice and holiness did you find?
Sacred is all that concerns us deep inside, that leads us beyond ourselves. In my projects like »Voce Sacra« or »Dea Luna« there is this connection with the sacred. What interests me is Sacred Art, not in a strictly religious and traditional but in a much wider, freer sense. Jodorowsky speaks about un‘ arte che cura: about the healing power of art. That’s what I mean. As for the voice, it certainly has a deep connection with what we are beyond this life and beyond the so-called contingent reality. The voice expresses our most intimate and profound spirituality, when used in a total, free and intimate way. There are no particular studies I refer to, I just follow what I feel inside in an instinctive and intuitive way. To me, my voice is a way to express sacredness.
You also work as a singing teacher. What are you telling your students at first to be most important thing? What have they to discover or know about the human voice?
This is no simple question. In addition to technique, which is always necessary, I try to teach my students that the most important thing for a voice is creativity. Voice is not only about the mere right reproducing of compositions, it has to convey what dwells inside, it needs to be used as a mean to bring out things that we have deep inside. Then of course it depends on who I’m facing: is it an adult student or a kid? Whether it is somebody’s first experience of study, or someone who already studied for years and so on. However, what I try to convey to all is that it is essential to search for a deeper creativity within their voice. I teach them that music is not a mere »task« and that the voice is the essence of each one of us that shows our precious individuality. You ask me what my students have to discover about the human voice. A good question. Here we could talk for hours, but to summarize and put it in a poetic way, I can say that they have to discover the entire universe just by the human voice.
Video „Vovovotah“ – Music by Kampsindaja / Directed by Fabio D’Agostino / Assistant director Lorenzo Gambillara / Cast & Voices: Donatella Bartolomei, Alessandro Conedera.
Bonus-Track of album „Sacra dea“:
One may consider your work as very experimental and free, but you still you always make use of conventional, canonised singing technics. What is still interesting in these classic methods of singing?
To experiment with the voice and to explore it doesn’t mean for me to depart from singing techniques. Techniques and exercise are essential. Good breathing, the right use of diaphragm and perfect tone are the necessary basics for experimentation. Without the right techniques nothing will work out. This would be like trying to write a novel, even a surreal or cutting-edge one, without knowing language and its rules. Quite simply, it would be impossible.
For several years you worked as a professional jazz singer. What aspects of the voice and vocal technics in jazz do you consider as unique and most useful for you?
I never stopped singing Jazz, I still do it nowadays, although my biggest passion now is to work and to explore things beyond fixed genres and styles. Today, even when I approach a Jazz standard, I go for it in a much freer way than I used to do before. Jazz gave me a key element: improvisation. Without it I couldn’t do any creative work. Moreover, within Modern Music it is Jazz that is the most complete and complex genre. To study and train Jazz means developing techniques on a much wider level than any other modern genre.
Your mixing up a lot of singing technics and genres– Jazz, Opera, Soul, Gospel, Musical. Why so?
When I’m singing, actually, I do not consciously combine different singing techniques, although I am aware of this. I work in a completely spontaneous way. I fully go by my emotions and by what I like to do at that moment. I studied Jazz and Non-commercial Musical and I worked in both genres. I didn’t study Opera but nevertheless I often tend to use Opera singing. Why? Because I like to use my voice in as many ways as possible, always looking for something new. Because I’m detached from any specific genre. I play, I experiment. And in this game there are no limits to me, exactly like in my Voca Sacra project.
Excerpt of an extensive atemwerft-interview. The conversation between Donatella Bartolomei and Martyn Schmidt took place in Spring 2014. © atemwerft 2016 / aw 006
Listen to „Sacra dea“ (available as HiRes-Download & CDr: www.atemwerft.de.
CDr comes in origami-style cardboard-folder including white canvas paper folder with liner notes, hand-sealed. Release date: July 2016. Black CDr in vinyl-look with haptic grooves, hand-stamped. Limited edition: First 33 copies come signed by Donatella Bartolomei.
Listen // Buy: http://www.atemwerft.de