Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo) – Sospiri
Full track details at end of review
Various recording dates and locations
DECCA 478 2558 DH [72:26]

I suppose the golden rule of our consumer and entertainment society might best be summarised as “If you have got it, flaunt it.” In the case of record companies this seems to mean that if you have an artist of undisputed stature under exclusive contract, and who has recorded for you for a considerable number of years, then make as much profit as possible by recycling his or her recordings as best you can.

There are few voices around as notable as that of Cecilia Bartoli, and even fewer who have delved into the repertoire as she has. I have been privileged to hear her in recitals associated with two of her CDs, Opera Proibita (Decca 475 7029) and Sacrificium (Decca 478 1522). These two albums, like that of her earlier collection devoted to Vivaldi (Decca 466 5692), involved repertoire that she had personally researched. The subject-matter was the somewhat esoteric works written for Rome and the castrati of Naples. In concert her consummate showmanship brought these contributions alive and the items featured were interspersed with more bravura contributions. Here the subject title Sospiri, literally as ‘sighs’, denotes something else: mood, even sadness perhaps and certainly reflection, often plaintive.

In mining Bartoli’s vast catalogue Decca have issued this collection as a kind of catch-all, using her name and known artistry to broaden her appeal. Rather than being a pot-pourri, or worse a mish-mash, the focus on mood, albeit stretched at time, is realised and is a significant contributor to achieving the aims of the album.

The first four items (trs.1-4) are all played with a period instrument backing. Tr.1, Lascia la spina cogli la rosa - from the late Handel oratorio Il Trionfo del Tiempo e del Disinganno - is gently reflective. Bartoli often emotes the words on a vocal thread. It has in common with Gelido in ogni vena (Tr.2) its plaintive side and is gently decorated. Her trill in the concluding passages of Sposa, non mi conosci (Tr.3) and particularly the plaintive tone and decoration in Caldara’s Quel buon pastor son io (Tr.4) is exquisite.

Moving on to better-known Mozart comes as a shock after the earlier works. The mood is still one of reflection, albeit with more bravura, in Cherubino’s Voi che sapete (Tr.5). Here the testosterone-fuelled young buck reflects on his conflicting emotional states with every woman he meets. Interestingly, this aria is not taken from Bartoli’s 1991 collection conducted by Gyorgy Fischer, but from the earliest in this collection, a 1994 recording under Abbado. In the following item, recorded 1998, Bartoli sings the light soprano role of Zerlina from Don Giovanni – here in duet with Bryn Terfel (Tr.6). By that date she was also performing the soprano role of Susanna from the Marriage of Figaro. Most memorably, at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, she caused ructions with the director Jonathan Miller by insisting on singing the variant act four aria Al desio, that Mozart wrote for a performance in 1789, in place of the usual Deh vieni, non tardar. I have often wondered, in the intervening years, whether Bartoli’s gradual withdrawal from staged opera performances was influenced by her vocal move upward towards the soprano register. This change is clearly indicated in the choice of Bellini items: Ah! non credea mirarti from La Sonnambula (Tr. 8) and the dramatic soprano role of Norma, which she first performed in concert in 2010, as represented by Casta Diva (Tr.11). These could be considered complete opposites in the bel canto repertoire. However, Bartoli makes a persuasive argument in the complete recording of La Sonnambula for the role of Amina being of her voice type; the names of Malibran and Pasta are called in aid. As I noted in my review of the complete opera, the lower pitch of the period orchestra complements Bartoli’s basic vocal timbre. This allows Amina’s emotions to come across with more sincerity, and greater depth, than is often the case featuring light lyric coloratura sopranos that have, hitherto, dominated the catalogue.

Bartoli’s effort at Casta Diva is a different matter from that of her Amina. As Norma (Tr.9) I do not find her voice to have the strength in the middle of Bellini’s writing that the role demands … at least not yet. The future may reveal a different story as this was recorded in 2006. This performance is again with period instruments as is that of Rossini’s ever-popular show-stopper Una voce poco fa from Il barbiere di Siviglia (Tr.10). This excerpt is highlighted as being its first issue on CD. As in the recitals referred to, the use of period instruments as backing seems to suit Bartoli’s current vocal situation of high coloratura mezzo. She stops short of whole soprano, at least in the highest tessitura; but the future may hold a few surprises. My view of her Norma might change if a recording emerges of her 2010 concert performance.

It will be interesting to wait and see whether Bartoli’s time at Salzburg, where she is due to take up an administrative post, will see any increase in staged opera activity from her. On the other hand perhaps her seemingly insatiable search among the backwaters of Italian operatic composition will lead to yet more esoteric collections and recitals. In the meantime this collection drawing on the past sixteen years follows her vocal development and preferences. It will be of interest to her many fans and also provides an introduction for those who know little of the diversity of her interests and performances. Its attractions are heightened by requiring the expression of emotions and not being wholly concerned with vocal display.

Robert J. Farr

Full Track Details

George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
Il Trionfo del Tiempo e del Disinganno – Oratorio - Lascia la spina cogli la rosa [5:57]
Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski. rec. August 2004 and February 2005.
Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741)
Farnace, Gelido in ogni vena [5:10]
Geminiano GIACOMELLI (1692 - 1740)
Merope, Sposa, non mi conosci [10:05]
Antonio CALDARA (1671 - 1736)
La Morte d'Abel - Quel buon pastor son io [10:22]
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini. rec. February 1999. January-March 2009
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Le nozze di Figaro, K.492 - Voi che sapete, Original version, Vienna, 1786 [2:31]
Wiener Philharmoniker/Claudio Abbado. rec. January and February 1994
Don Giovanni, K.527 - Là ci darem la mano [3.15]
with Bryn Terfel
Vesperae solennes de confessore in C, K.339 - Laudate Dominum omnes gentes [5:02]
with Cinzia Maurizio, Luigi Piovano, Daniele Rossi
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845 - 1924)
Requiem, Op.48 Pie Jesu [3:53]
Orchestra and chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Myung-Whun Chung. rec. June 1998
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 - 1835)
La Sonnambula – Ah! non credea mirarti si presto estinto, o fiore [5:12]
with, Juan Diego Flórez, Orchestra La Scintilla/Alessandro de Marchi. rec. June, July 2007 and September 2008
Norma - Casta Diva [6:50]
International Chamber Soloists, Orchestra La Scintilla/Adam Fischer. rec. August-October 2006
Ines di Castro, Cari giorni (Romanza der Ines) [4:13]
Orchestra La Scintilla/Adam Fischer. rec. August-October 2006
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia – Una voce poco fa [5:25]
International Chamber Soloists, Orchestra La Scintilla/Adam Fischer. rec. August-October 2006
César FRANCK (1822 - 1890)
Panis Angelicus [4:22]
rec. May 1997

An interesting collection of Cecilia Bartoli’s diverse recorded repertoire over the last sixteen years