Cecilia Bartoli will perform tonight at the Emirates Palace as part of Abu Dhabi Classics. The mezzo-soprano's unrivalled vocal abilities, unfailing passion and unflappable showmanship make it a show not to miss. Those people who have been lucky enough to secure tickets for The Romantic Revolution, the Abu Dhabi Classics concert that takes place tonight at the Emirates Palace hotel, are in for a rare treat. For Cecilia Bartoli, the featured soloist, is pure musical gold. At 42, this unique Roman-born classical diva is at the peak of her career and there's no sign of any slowing down. She's sold more than six million discs, and her name guarantees a sell-out and a standing ovation in all the major concert halls and opera houses of the world.
Her astonishing vocal technique embraces both the soprano and mezzo-soprano range, allowing her to sing with an unrivalled speed, virtuosity and clarity. But she's never just a machine - her sparkling personality makes her an irresistible comedian on stage, and in the richly beautiful lower register of her voice, she can tug at the heart strings with a slow melancholy aria too. What makes her even more remarkable in a perfidious business is her consistency and loyalty. She has stuck with the same label (Decca) and producer (Christopher Raeburn) for 20 years, and has steadfastly concentrated on performing a narrow and almost purely Italian repertory of music written between 1750 and 1830. Other singers in her position would have doubled their money by singing crowd-pleasers such as Carmen or hit songs from the shows or a crossover duet with a big pop star. Not Bartoli - she may be a superb entertainer, but she is an artist first, and a puritanical one at that.
Backstage, there are no prima donna antics either. Bartoli is exceptionally strong-minded and has kept keen control over the marketing of her brand - her dimples are made of iron, it has been said - but she is still the uproariously funny, high-spirited and unaffected girl who burst on to the scene when she won an Italian television talent show called Fantastico in 1987. And although she is inevitably the centre of attention wherever she goes, she remains a considerate colleague, always prepared to muck in and do her bit.
Her mother Silvana, a former member of the chorus at the Rome Opera, taught her to sing and is said to remain her closest companion. Mamma Bartoli's influence on her daughter hasn't always pleased the critics, who have on occasion deplored Cecilia's flamboyant performing style and bizarre facial mannerisms. Her spontaneous sense of drama can propel her in the heat of the moment into a recklessness which sticklers for accuracy find disconcerting, and she's been accused of sacrificing beauty of tone for emotional effect. But she is adamant that she can only perform the way that her mother taught her and the way that she feels the music.
Bartoli doesn't like singing what everyone else sings, and she uses her drawing-power at the box office to introduce her audiences to the unfamiliar. The early years of her career were largely devoted to an exploration of the work of Rossini, which spread far beyond The Barber of Seville. Over past decade, much of her time has been devoted to the scholarly exhumation of forgotten vocal music by Vivaldi, Gluck, Salieri and Halevy.
Another passion has been the early 19th-century prima donna Maria Malibran, of whom she has accumulated an enormous collection of memorabilia. Malibran was by all reports a wild creature and a free spirit, who lived life in the fast lane and died tragically young. Bartoli clearly identifies with Malibran's Judy Garland tendency to go over the top, and her recent album of arias that Malibran sang has proved to be one of her most impassioned productions.
Yet for all her extravert exuberance on stage, Bartoli keeps her personal life well hidden from the press and public. She has been romantically connected with the Italian musicologist and vintner Claudio Osele and the Swiss baritone Oliver Widmer, but she has never been married or had children. Yet she isn't a musical monomaniac - she has been an energetic campaigner for neurological research since her beloved brother Gabriele died from a brain tumour in 1997, and she loves dancing flamenco and driving sports cars (in which she is said to sing her head off).
Bartoli has always kept her appearances strictly rationed - which is what makes tonight's concert so special , not least because she dislikes air travel and its desiccating effect on the vocal cords. This means that every one of her performances is an event to which she gives herself wholeheartedly. Nobody ever leaves a Bartoli concert feeling that they've been short-changed. How could they? The sheer joy her music-making communicates is something beyond price.
Rupert Christiansen is the opera critic of The Daily Telegraph. To order tickets for any Abu Dhabi Classics event call free on 800 4669 or visit www.timeouttickets.com.