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Cecilia Bartoli's Maria Malibrán Concert: Cecilia Bartoli (Mezzo soprano) Basel Kammerorchester/ Julia Schröder (Conductor)  Auditorio de Valladolid. 12. 2.2008. (JMI)

After Cecilia Bartoli's artistic and commercial success from her tour in Spain  two years ago, the Italian diva comes back to repeat the experience. Then, the reason for the tour was the launch of Bartoli's  Opera Proibita CD,  and this time it is  another CD launch, dedicated to  the legendary figure of Maria Malibrán. Ms. Bartoli is a real gold mine for her recording company, since nobody else reaches her sales figures. After the earlier tour, a total success with  both  the  public and critics, the expectations were enormous this time, and “Sold Out” signs appeared quickly in every theatre or auditorium she visited. Today Cecilia Bartoli has become a media figure, almost a legend herself, and a cool head is needed to judge her concerts, since the audience reacts to the myth and not to the singer.

On this tour she is accompanied by the Basel Kammerorchester with its conductor and violinist Julia Schröder leading them. It is evident that Ms Schröder is a great violinist, as we could be heard from  her magnificent interpretation of the andante from Charles-Auguste De Bériot's concerto, which was the best thing of the evening for me. Her status as a  conductor is more debatable, since the person who really conducts is the Roman diva herself with expansive arm gestures. Either way, the 32 piece orchestra offered an outstanding sound and great musical sense in all of their many contributions.

Cecilia Bartoli was announced as being unwell, which surprisingly produced applause fromthe public. If the Opera Proibita tour was a real hit, raising huge enthusiasm in all the cities she visited, I cannot say the same for this one. The program lacks the interest of the previous one and while there is no question that Ms Bartoli is a great singer, with an outstanding coloratura and a most expressive vocal acting, her vocal volume felt  limited this time : she  has never had a big voice to my mind. Whether due to the characteristics of the auditorium or cautiousness on Ms. Bartoli's part, her  performance seemed like some singers  who limit themselves to “marking” in rehearsals, especially in the first half. And even taking her health problem into consideration,  I found even her interpretation of Cenerentola’s “Non più mesta” (which that finished the first part of the concert)  below the standard reached by Joyce DiDonato at Barcelona’s  Liceu last month. She was much better in the 'Willow Song'  from Rossini’s Otello, and she showed all of her famous  abilities for agility and communication in Hummel’s 'Tyrolean Aria.'  She finished  the concert with a languid interpretation of “Ah, non credea mirarte” at an incredibly slow pace, followed by the cabaletta without any of the usual extra high notes. Without them “Ah, non giunge”, loses most of its interest.

The public applauded warmly, but there was no particularly great enthusiasm during much of the concert and Ms. Bartoli, who is clearly very intelligent, decided to end the concert “in bellezza”, as the Italians say. She offered two pieces by Maria Malibrán herself as encores ,  a further brilliant cabaletta and a rataplán. After this, audience gave her a  proper 'standing ovation.' So, for health reasons or not, theconcert was a certain disappointment, and the packed audience probably enjoyed seeing the Superstar more than listening to her this time.

José M. Irurzun

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