Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo)
Arnold Schoenberg Chor; Wiener Volksopernorchester/Giuseppe PatanŤ
rec. Konzerthaus, Vienna, July 1988
detailed tracklist at end of review
DECCA ORIGINALS 4782663 [64.11]

Tempus fugit, time flies Ö and how! This was Cecilia Bartoliís first ever recording at the age of twenty-two. Bartoli was the daughter of two members of the Rome Opera. Her mother became her teacher when eventually the young Maria recognised, as had her mother already, the potential of her voice and where it might take her. It was to take her to be the second most famous Italian opera singer of the day, the first being the Italian among the renowned Three Tenors.

Bartoli had debuted professionally a couple of years before she auditioned for Christopher Raeburn, the redoubtable Decca recording producer. He heard gold for his employers in her vocal chords and artistry and she was signed up. The challenging programme on this first recital disc marked an important stage in her career. Some commentators mentioned her name alongside, and as a successor, to Marilyn Horne and Lucia Valentini-Terrani in this repertory, which was gaining increasing exposure after years of neglect. This was somewhat premature as exemplified by Bartoliís singing of Cruda sorte! Amor tiranno! from Rossiniís first great comic opera success, L'Italiana in Algeri, premiered in Venice in 1814. Whilst Bartoliís singing is secure and delightful on the ear, it does not stand comparison with her elders, with Horne in particular being an outstanding exponent of the role (see review). What Bartoli lacks compared with Horne is depth of tone. That being said, her vocal flexibility in coloratura and her range of expression is to be admired in the act two Pronti abbiamo - Amici in ogni evento - Pensa all Patria (tr.2) as Isabella hears from the slaves that they are ready with arms. Realising that she can execute her plan of escape from Mustafa she exhorts them to think of their fatherland. Similarly her coloratura, trill and expressive nuance are well to the fore in the extract from the less well-known La pietra del paragone (tr.7). Decca did not stint on this recording and a full chorus is present when required adding to the thrill of Bartoliís performance.

Bartoliís vocal range is exhibited in several excerpts, extending up to sopranoís high C. Her lighter tone and expression in the higher register is heard to advantage in the extended Willow song from Rossiniís Otello, so different from that of Verdi, as Desdemona asks for the peace of sleep (tr.5). The lighter vocal timbre was to develop further after she ventured into the Mozart soprano repertoire with performances as Despina, Zerlina and Susanna. The latter role at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, led to ructions and the departure of the producer, the vastly experienced Jonathan Miller, when Bartoli insisted on singing the alternative act four aria to the traditional Deh vieni and which revealed two facets of her character, Diva temperament and a tendency to some musicological research. The former has meant some late cancellations or withdrawals that has seriously limited Bartoliís opera performances in Britain, whilst as her voice has developed she has moved away from the traditional mezzo repertoire into rarer areas of repertoire that she believes suit her evolving vocal strengths. Decca has not failed to go along with her wishes and a captivating series of recitals and recordings has resulted. This, as with her albums titled Opera Proibita and Sacrificium, The Art of the Castrati, are often associated with concert performances around Europe of which I have been privileged to see two (see review 1 and review 2)

The concert performances referred to appear to have become something of a substitute for staged opera for Bartoli. Whereas in the first years of her fame she performed widely in America and Europe, except in her native Rome, her stage appearances are now rare. It remains to be seen if her administrative appointment at the Salzburg Festival will increase those, or the opposite. In the meantime this recital is a reminder of several of her stage roles, and her vocal skills in this repertoire. She has recently taken steps into more dramatic soprano repertoire with concert performances of Norma. In that respect she might well heed John Steaneís updated notes from the original issue.

Unusually in re-issued lower price CDs, the leaflet contains words and translations in English, German and French.

Robert J Farr

A welcome reminder of the start of a formidable recording career of one of the great singers of her generation.

Detailed tracklist

L'italiana in Algeri
Cruda sorte! Amor tiranno! [4:55]
Pronti abbiamo - Amici in ogni evento - Pensa all Patria [9:40]

La donna del lago
Mura felici ... Elena! O tu, che chiamo [10:08]

O patria ... Di tanti palpiti [8:26]

Assisa a' piŤ d'un salice - Che dissi! - Deh! calma, o Ciel, nel sonno [9:10]

Stabat Mater
Fac ut portem. Christi mortem [5:14]
La pietra del paragone
Se l'Italie contrade ... Se per voi care ol torno [8:46]

La Cenerentola
Nacqui all'affanno e al pianto - Non piý mesta [7:52]