The Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli is one of the most charming and talented singers to appear on the scene in recent years, and this collection of Italian songs by three great opera composers–Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini–is a most deserving bestseller. There are many small pleasures in the selections, which reflect the bel canto predilections of their authors, and Bartoli renders them artfully. Some will be familiar even to casual listeners (Rossini's La Danza, the famous tarantella); others will be new to most, but equally deserving of a hearing. The sensitive and skillful accompaniment is by conductor-pianist James Levine.
Rossini composed comic operas of the bel canto repertoire, which were very popular in the first half of the 19th century. Rossini's music was sparkling, inventive, Mozartian, and the vocal lines of his operas were showcases for tenors and sopranos of the day. Rossini popularized comedy in opera. It was his Barber Of Seville that began a tradition that is still strong to this very day. In the first half of the 19th century, tenor Manuel Garcia and his daughters, both of them acclaimed mezzo sopranos, delivered masterful performances of Rossini's operas…
By Rachel Garret
(…) Concert reviews in England have been ecstatic, and, to judge from the Barber and a recital of Rossini arias, she [Cecilia Bartoli] may be the real article: a young singer with a generous vocal endowment and, more unusual, a distinctive and communicative musical personality. Hear this performance for her. New York Magazine 15-jan-1990
This compilation of selections from a number of Cecilia Bartoli's recitals from between 1994 and 2009, plus several newly released tracks, is unified by the theme of sighs, "sospiri." The music expresses a variety of moods, including sighs of resignation, relaxation, grief, ecstasy, and romantic pleasure. The first of the two CDs is devoted to secular music, much of it operatic, and the second to sacred pieces. The album should offer few surprises to anyone who has a preconceived opinion of Bartoli's vocalism. Fans of her exuberant personality and dramatic temperament will find just what they would expect, as will detractors who are put off by what they feel to be her excessive flamboyance. In any case, whatever one's opinion of the outcome, there's no denying that Bartoli throws herself into all her projects with absolute abandon. She is so deeply invested in wringing the emotional truth out of a piece that she is not afraid to let her voice stray from the principles of bel canto singing that require that tonal beauty be maintained at all times.
Countertenor performances of 19th century opera are a historical and, ultimately, true novelty. This said, for those who love the sound of the countertenor voice and want to give it a try, there are several factors that recommend this release by countertenor Franco Fagioli, with the small orchestra Armonia Atenea under George Petrou. First is that castrati were still around in Rossini's time, although on the decline, and the composer was reportedly intrigued by their voices. Second, Fagioli, unlike the vast majority of other countertenors, studied bel canto singing rather than Baroque repertory exclusively, and a certain distance present in the work of other countertenors is absent here. And third, and most important, is Fagioli's voice itself. Of the countertenors active today, he's the one with the range, the power, the attitude to make you suspend disbelief and think for a moment that you're actually listening to a castrato. He enters into the various Rossini roles represented on this recording, several of which were mezzo-soprano "pants" roles; this adds to the layers of identity-switching happening, and the parts hit Fagioli's vocal sweet spot. A bonus is that several of these are from Rossini opere serie that are little played or recorded.
This was to be the end of the line for Italian word-setting by Viennese composers: once the confident sentiments that belonged to the poet Metastasio's opera seria felt the chill and threatening wind of Enlightenment and Revolution, their time was up. Even we, for the most part, prefer to remember the German-speaking Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn. So it is good to be reminded of their responses to the Italian muse (usually as part of their craft-learning student work) in this particularly well-cast recital. Central Europe, in the person of Andras Schiff meets Italy, in Cecilia Bartoli, to delightful, often revelatory effect.
“This is a truly marvellous performance on all counts - staging, conducting and singing. Sir Peter Hall… manages to breathe new life into the routines without ever slipping over into farce, while exploring each character in some depth. The sense of an ensemble on top form is underlined by Vladimir Jurowski's exacting, pellucid and vivid interpretation, so that the music, like the libretto, is presented afresh. The superb cast has no weaknesses and many strengths, Ruxandra Donose may not have the idiomatic Italian timbre of Cecilia Bartoli… but she is the more consistent singer, using her wide range and rich tone to startling effect. Her youthful (24-year-old) partner, Russian tenor Maxim Mironov, proves an ideal Ramiro, fluent in every aspect of his role and delivering its appreciable demands in a light, pliant voice of delicate beauty.”(Gramophone)
Ah Rossini…! The real inventor of the assembly line. That Ford fellow was just a copycat. One-size-fits-all overtures. Arias you swear you've heard before (you did). Plots that are reused more often than a sandlot league baseball. Why do we love him so much? Because his music is so infectious that it gets under your skin faster than a splinter from a bamboo shade. (Amazon.com; Mike Birman)