Cecilia Bartoli's latest project, previewed at Ionarts in September, is a tribute to one of the great mezzo-sopranos of the 19th century, Maria Malibran. Bartoli's obsession with her, over the last ten years or so, has resulted in this new release, which came across my desk recently in its deluxe hardcover version. Bartoli is as effervescent, radiant, and intense in tone in this recording as she ever was. However, those who have not been won over by her voice previously will not likely change their minds after hearing this disc. Her vocal tics still stand out, her sometimes odd vowels in incredibly athletic passage work and swallowed, peculiar trills. That being said, Bartoli is to be congratulated for attempting to reveal early 19th-century opera with some of the varnish removed.
Available at Amazon:
Maria, Cecilia Bartoli, Orchestra La Scintilla, A. Fischer (deluxe hardcover edition, October 16, 2007) [$22.99]
Maria (regular CD version) [$13.97]
It would be folly to believe that modern bel canto listeners really know how the operas of that period should sound, only on the basis of hearing how Norma and La Sonnambula are sung in gigantic modern houses. Bartoli has recorded a broader selection of the music that made La Malibran famous, not only Bellini but Giovanni Pacini, Jacques Halevy, Manuel Garcia, Giuseppe Persiani, and Lauro Rossi, and she has done it with the Orchestra La Scintilla playing on period instruments, reportedly using autograph scores owned by Malibran (and containing her ornamentation). Recently, Bartoli gave a concert drawn from this CD in Lucca's Teatro del Giglio, where La Malibran once sang. It seats only 400 people, which calls for a voice and orchestral sound scaled to that more intimate space.
1. Se un mio desir / Ira del ciel (Giovanni Pacini, Irene)
2. Cari giorni (Giuseppe Persiani, Ines de Castro
3. Infelice (scena-aria by Mendelssohn)
5. Yo que soy contrabandista (Manuel Garcia, El Poeta Calculista)
6. Ah! non credea mirarti (Bellini, La Sonnambula)
16. Prendi, per me sei libero (Donizetti, L'Elisir d'Amore)
17. Casta Diva (Bellini, Norma
Jessica Duchen, Soul sisters: Cecilia Bartoli and Maria Malibran (The Independent, November 24)
Rupert Christiansen, Cecilia Bartoli's magnificent obsession (The Telegraph, November 19)
One of the things I love about Bartoli is that she is a thinking person's singer, and she has really left no stone unturned in her quest to understand the historic voice she so admires. In a sense, this borders on creepy, a sort of celebrity stalking by time travel. In the deluxe booklet, we see Bartoli photoshopped into a jewel on La Malibran's stage jewelry (the same bracelet she is shown wearing on the cover), Bartoli wrapped in the cloth of Malibran's gown (again via Photoshop), even Bartoli cradling La Malibran's death mask. Has she tried to dig up the poor woman's bones yet? The photo of Bartoli at the wheel of her Museo Mobile, the big camper-bus of Malibran artefacts, that La Cieca hilariously spoofed as the "Malibran Van," says it all.
Opera Proibita (Musiciens du Louvre)
Gluck Arias (Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin)
Vivaldi Arias (Il Giardino Armonico)
Even so, the selection of arias is fascinating, if occasionally campy. You will want to hear Bartoli yodel, supposedly one of La Malibran's specialities, as in Hummel's Air à la Tirolienne here, at least once and then probably never again, and the same is likely true of the flamenco-tinged number Yo que soy contrabandista. Bartoli's supremely fine thread of pianissimo sound, however, is luscious to hear, especially as featured in the most beautiful tracks on this disc. Conductor Adam Fischer lends a firm and controlling hand to the top-notch group of musicians from the Zurich Opera House orchestra, known as La Scintilla. Especially fine solo work is contributed by violinist Maxim Vengerov (on the Mendelssohn scena), harpist Una Prelle, and flutist Maria Goldschmidt. The video embedded below offers a view on the recording sessions. As part of her European tour, La Bartoli will be appearing at the Munich Philharmonie on December 2, which hopefully Jens will review. With any luck, La Bartoli will bring her Maria program to the Kennedy Center soon, with or without the Malibran van.
Decca 475 9077
Adam Fischer - Cecilia Bartoli sings Maria Malibran