Italian mezzo soprano Cecilia Bartoli has conquered the world’s great opera houses, turned Salieri into a bestseller and become a saviour of the classical recording industry… But she has never, until now, performed in Australia. Francis Merson spoke to Cecilia on the eve of her maiden tour.

You have forged an unusual path for a singer, focusing on recordings and recitals rather than opera performances. How did this happen?

I started like all singers – on the opera stage, performing Rossini then moving to Mozart. I was very lucky to find so much work at the beginning and to work with great conductors like Daniel Barenboim and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who really guided me at the beginning.

How did they discover you?

Well, when I was 19 I entered a TV competition, and Barenboim happened to see it. He arranged a private audition and was so enthusiastic. He decided to work with me for a few years, and we did the Mozart operas. And then with Harnoncourt I moved from Mozart to Haydn. So I really started with the standard operatic roles, performing in Europe and at the Met.
But I also wanted to discover more repertoire outside of opera. So I...