‘Semele’ is presented in Robert Carsen’s stylish modern dress production, originally seen in London, and most recently staged at the Zurich Opera in 2007. The drama tells of the ambition of the beautiful mortal, Semele, who, not satisfied with being Jupiter’s mistress, strives with fatal results to supplant Jupiter’s wife, Juno. Conceived as an oratorio but nowadays presented as a stage drama, it is a superb vehicle for all the principals, not least the substantial title role, which includes such popular arias as ‘Endless pleasure’ and ‘Myself I shall adore’.
Cecilia Bartoli recreates the 1828 triumph of the legendary Maria Malibran - original star and dedicatee of Halévy's "tragi-comedy", Clari. Tracing the love of a callow country-girl for a duplicitous Duke, this hugely entertaining and first-ever modern production of Clari proved the overwhelming hit of the Zurich Opera season. Zurich Opera's own period-instrument orchestra, La Scintilla, under Adam Fischer, contribute a thoroughly researched, stylistically and historically well-informed accompaniment, yet without neglecting the liveliness and spirit of Italian opera.
This recording of La Sonnambula is notable on a number of fronts. It's the first recording of the opera based on a 2004 critical edition of the score that confirms the leading role was indeed written for a mezzo-soprano, although it has been performed by sopranos for much of its history. (Among the first Aminas were the celebrated mezzos Giuditta Pasta and Maria Malibran.) It's also the first recording using period instruments, in this case Orchestra La Scintilla, based at the Basel Opera and conducted by Alessandro de Marchi in an idiomatic and lively reading. And, as the promotional materials trumpet, it's the first recorded collaboration between superstars Cecilia Bartoli and Juan Diego Flórez. Although less hoopla is made of him, the recording also features a superbly lyrical performance by baritone Ildebrando D'Arcangelo.
For the later part of her career, Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has apparently settled on a campaign of major conceptual releases covering all-but-unknown repertory, and St. Petersburg fits right in. It's a collection of arias from operas written in the second half of the 18th century for the Russian imperial court, which had imported the best Italian and German composers money could buy. The names of all but Mozart's contemporary Domenico Cimarosa are unknown today. Most of the arias are in Italian, but a couple are in Russian, and to untutored ears Bartoli brings her trademark passion to them. This is the kind of release where one can quibble with any number of details. Bartoli sounds thick in some places, strained in others. The material is a bit uneven, with especially the last two pieces creating a bit of a letdown, although much of it does indeed live up to major-forgotten-works billing. The booklet brings up the Catherine the Great horse legend for no very good reason. Yet, as so often with Bartoli, the whole adds up to so much more than the sum of the objections. She is fearless in many ways here, not just in convincingly bringing home repertory her listeners will never have heard, but in blowing past classifications of vocal range: Bartoli may conventionally be seen as a mezzo, but the material here ranges from full-blown opera seria soprano almost down to contralto in a few cases, where Bartoli's voice takes on a lovely burnished tone. Whatever faults you might find, this is tremendously exciting stuff, not boring for a second. (James Manheim)
In the early 1990s Daniel Barenboim recorded the three Da Ponte operas with the Berlin Philharmonic. The BPO had played "Figaro" and "Don Giovanni" many times, but this was the first time that the group had ever tackled "Cosi fan tutte." Perhaps that is why they sound so fresh and energized under the thoughtful baton of Barenboim. Mozart's operas are usually performed with a small chamber or opera house orchestra, but this time the score of "Cosi" (which has so many beautiful, subtle touches, and is almost a celebration of beauty itself) is given the full treatment of perhaps the greatest orchestra in the world. While the resulting sound is somewhat "bigger" and more "lush" than is usual, Barenboim does manage to keep things appropriately light and "classical," just as he has so successfully done in the piano concertos which he is recording with the BPO.
Rossini’s unusual scoring of the drama calls for three tenor supporting roles – here sung to universal acclaim by long-standing Bartoli collaborators John Osborn and Javier Camarena and newcomer Edgardo Rocha. Bartoli’s dramatic command and vocal presence dominate the stage and reveal her artistry to be entering a rich new stage of development.
After the pan-global success of her disc of Vivaldi arias, mezzo Cecilia Bartoli is clearly a woman on a mission to rescue the neglected operatic output of otherwise well-known composers. Of the eight arias by Gluck on this disc, six have never been recorded before–and it's likely that the operas they have been taken from will be unknown to all but the most obsessive buffs. Unfortunately, even Bartoli can't quite make a case for all the material here: it sometimes lapses into the excessive passage-work and routine arpeggios which are especially obvious in the first track. But there's also plenty of Gluck at his most inspired, writing with acute sympathy for a woman going mad at the thought of her lover's impending execution (track 3) and screwing dramatic tension to almost Verdian levels with the words "estremi sospiri" (final breaths) in an aria from La clemenza di Tito (track 7). Bartoli is as amazing as ever, blending her trademark intensity and almost unbearably gorgeous lyricism into an explosive mix of vocal fabulousness. She is accompanied with period vigour by the Akademie für Alte Musik.–Warwick Thompson