Nicola PORPORA (1686 – 1768)
1. Come nave in mezzo all’onde* [4:05]
Antonio CALDARA (1671 – 1736)
2. Profezie, di me diceste* [7:39]
Francesco ARAIA (1709 – 1770)
3. Cadrò, ma qual si mira* [6:17]
Germanica in Germania (1732)
4. Parto, ti lascio, o cara* [10:49]
5. Usignolo sventurato* [5:12]
Carl Heinrich GRAUN (c.1703 –
6. Misero pargoletto* [10:08]
Semiramide riconosciuta (1729)
7. In braccio a mille furie* [2:53]
Leonardo LEO (1694 – 1744)
Zenobia in Palmira (1725)
8. Qual farfalla* [5:30]
9. Nobil onda [4:56]
Carl Heinrich GRAUN
Adriano in Siria (1746)
10. Deh, tub el Dio d’amore … Ov’è il mio bene?* [3:43]
Leonardo VINCI (?1696 – 1730)
11. Chi temea Giove regnante* [6:16]
La morte d’Abel figura di quella del nostro Redentore (1732)
12. Quel buon pastor son io* [10:26]
* World premiere recordings
Three Legendary Castrato Arias
Riccardo BROSCHI (c. 1698 – 1756)
1. Son qual nave [7:32]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 –
2. Ombra mai fu [3:30]
Geminiano GIACOMELLI (c.1692 –
3. Sposa, non mi conosci [10:11]
Cecilia Bartoli is phenomenal – and has sustained her status
over two decades. Her breakthrough came as a Rossini singer.
She reaped laurels through a Rossini recital and the complete
recording of Il barbiere di Siviglia
under Patané, both
issued in 1989. Mozart – a great Cherubino in Barenboim’s Le
nozze di Figaro
should be apostrophized – Haydn and a Handel
opera followed suit. These came alongside a stream of recital
discs. With the start of the new millennium, she changed direction
and concentrated on rare repertoire, mostly from the 18th
century. Since then her stage appearances have been few and
far between. Her formidable technique, her enormous musicality
and her deep involvement in whatever she approaches have continued
to serve her superbly in her various assignments. She has impressed
the general public and the musicologists admirably through her
indefatigable hunt for worthwhile rarities. She has not shied
away from concept projects – both in concert and on disc – and
the result has been musically thrilling and historically perspective-building.
Her previous recital album, entitled Maria
, was a tribute
to the celebrated Maria Malibran, who was already a legend when
she died, aged only 28. That album, issued in 2007, is a marvellous
survey spanning the career of one of the real super stars in
the world of opera. It included several world premiere recordings.
In this her latest effort she goes even further in rarity value:
11 out of the 12 numbers on CD 1 are world premiere recordings!
The album title Sacrificium
needs an explanation and
Decca have supplied it with the subtitle: The Sacrifice of
Hundred of Thousands of Boys in the Name of Music
. The number
of young boys who were castrated before their voices broke in
the hope – primarily from greedy parents – that their offspring
would become a brightly shining star. A few did. The question
is: how happy they were in spite of the fortunes they reaped.
The majority didn’t attain celebrity, and had to spend the rest
of their lives in oblivion, maybe singing in church choirs.
That was hardly compensation for their sufferings, physically
It goes without saying that those who have been honoured by
this album, belonged to the first category: those who were lucky
to possess the talent required to command a career as a soloist.
We know very little about what the great ones sounded like.
The only ‘survivor’ into relatively recent times was Alessandro
Moreschi. He recorded a handful of discs just after the turn
of the last century but was no great singer. There are still
moments on those records where he displays a sound that can
serve as a distant echo of what ear-witnesses during the 18th
century have described.
Cecilia Bartoli’s voice has nothing of that masculine quality
that is inherent in Moreschi’s tone. That aspect can be traced
in a male soprano like Jörg Waschinski, whose disc with Clara
Schumann songs I review
a while ago. But this is probably the only thing that is missing.
Breath-control, beauty of tone, brilliance and the amazing technical
security that allows her to execute the devilishly taxing coloratura
roulades – everything is there, paired with dramatic intensity.
The disc should be in every vocal collection for these qualities
alone and for the rarity of the music. Question is: what is
the quality of the music?
Honestly, there is quite a lot of empty coloratura fireworks
on display here. This element serves no other purpose than as
a vehicle for bravura. While admiring Bartoli’s phenomenal ease
and seemingly effortless lightness in producing these interminable
excursions up into the blue, one can’t fend off the onset of
boredom. Even so, there are several examples of dramatically
effective writing and rhythmically exciting music, where the
drive and forward movement from orchestra as well as soloist
will arouse enthusiasm. The opening aria by Porpora brims over
with ‘go’ – and emptiness, likewise Araia’s aria (tr. 3), where
the orchestra advances like a hurricane. Porpora’s Nobil
is another stunner where Bartoli
also gets an opportunity to expose her enormous range. Leonardo
Vinci’s Chi temea Giove regnante
(tr. 11) opens with
a thunder that recurs throughout the aria, and this seems to
justify the coloratura aspect.
There are also several arias that have far more musical depth:
Antonio Caldara’s, for example. The elegy from Sedecia
(tr. 2) is touching, and Bartoli’s handling of the text is marvellous.
The mild Abel’s aria (tr. 12) is similarly moving, and in both
arias the singing has the same feeling and soulfulness that
characterized Janet Baker during her heyday.
Carl Heinrich Graun, who died the same year as Handel, was regarded,
together with Hasse, as the foremost German composer of Italian
opera. At least his Montezuma
has been performed in modern
times – and recorded. Decca issued a highlights disc with Richard
Bonynge and with Joan Sutherland as one of the soloists, some
decades ago. Last year (2008) Johannes Goritzki made a complete
recording. I have some excerpts from the Decca and have always
thought that Graun’s music is almost on a level with Handel’s.
Timante’s aria from Demofoonte
(tr. 6) is an extremely
fine and moving elegy that confirms the impression. Bartoli
sings it with the utmost care for nuance. The other Graun aria,
from Adriano in Siria
to a Metastasio libretto (tr. 10)
is also wonderful. Leonardo Leo’s Qual farfalla innamorata
(tr. 8) is likewise a most beautiful inspiration.
So the empty fireworks are only one side of the coin. There
is a lot of high quality music to delight the discriminating
listener. On the bonus disc there are more delights. Of Riccardo
Broschi’s six operas for London, Artaserse
was the most
successful. One good reason for this was the aria Son qual
– or maybe even more the singing of it by the legendary
Farinelli on his first appearance in London. Farinelli was a
younger brother to Broschi. The aria is primarily a virtuoso
showpiece but with some rivetingly beautiful passages as well.
Another famous castrato in London at about the same time was
Caffarelli, who premiered the title role in Handel’s Serse
(Xerxes) in 1738. The opera was no success, surviving only five
performances, but this was hardly Caffarelli’s fault. And his
opening aria – here bereft of its preceding recitative – has
always been one of the composer’s most beloved arias, recorded
by all kinds of singers, not least mezzo-sopranos. But has it
ever been more beautifully sung than here?
Giacomelli’s Sposa, non mi conosci
, was sung by both
Farinelli and Caffarelli, but became world-famous in Vivaldi’s
adaptation. It is beautiful but has a dramatic mid-section,
where Cecilia Bartoli shows her expressivity, snarling like
The discs come in a deluxe edition in the shape of a hardback
book, lavishly illustrated and with extensive notes. Among the
illustrations there is a photograph from 1898 of the Papal Choir,
where one of the singers is the afore-mentioned Alessando Moreschi.
This is certainly an indispensable issue!