Notes and Editorial Reviews
Limited-edition hardcover book (24cm x 24cm), featuring the complete album on CD, a DVD documentary and 200+ full color pages displaying the story behind the album and Bartoli’s personal collection of Malibran artifacts.
Cecilia Bartoli revisits the early Romantic era of Rossini, Bellini and their contemporaries and views the Bel canto glory days through the eyes of Maria Malibran: Romantic icon, Bel Canto muse, and the most extraordinary opera star of her time.
Maria features 8 world premiere recordings including the prayer ‘Se il mio desir…Cedi al duol’ from the long lost opera Irene by Pacini, and the aria ‘E non lo vedo…Son regina’ by Maria’s father, the famous Rossini tenor Manuel Garcia. Bartoli also
presents the London version of Mendelssohn’s ‘Infelice’ for voice, violin solo and orchestra, where she duets with Maxim Vengerov. The album also includes popular favorites, such as Bellini’s ‘Casta Diva’ from Norma.
Maria features an incredible variety of music. Mellifluous Bel canto delights are contrasted with regional flavors from around the world: from Spanish flamenco to Tyrolienne yodeling. The album exhibits Cecilia Bartoli singing in four languages: Italian, Spanish, French and English. She is joined by the period practice Orchestra La Scintilla, led by Hungarian conductor Adam Fischer.
R E V I E W:
Maria Malibran (1808-1836) arguably was the early 19th-century's most famous diva (Giuditta Pasta ran her a close second and her much younger sister, Pauline Viardot, is in the running as well). She, along with members of her musical family (her father sang in the premiere of Il barbiere di Siviglia), came to the U.S. and appeared in the first performance of Don Giovanni in this country. Bellini re-wrote I puritani for her, and she created the title role in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda. Pacini composed an alternate aria for her in Rossini's Tancredi (recorded here). The fact that she died at 27 of injuries sustained from a fall from a horse has solidified her legend.
Malibran was a mezzo with (apparently) a three-octave range, and she has fascinated singers and scholars alike for years: Callas was compared with her, and many years ago Renata Scotto wrote in her autobiography that she might be Malibran reincarnated. Now Cecilia Bartoli offers up a selection of music composed for (or by) her and seems to feel that her voice is precisely like Malibran's. Just the fact that three such different-sounding singers feel such an affinity for Malibran makes her a puzzle to be solved.
Be that as it may, this is a CD of interesting and mostly unrecorded music performed with Bartoli's usual remarkable commitment. Among the most fascinating selections is a scene by Felix Mendelssohn called "Infelice" that takes the singer through an almost Beethovenian recitative (think "Ah! Perfido!"), a gentle, tuneful adagio with violin solo, here played brilliantly by Maxim Vengerov (this whole CD is a very classy affair), and a passionate final allegro. Throughout the scene's 12-minute length, Bartoli is as dramatically riveting as she is vocally impressive, ranging from wispy pianissimo to mad, rapid exclamation.
An aria by Manuel Garcia (Maria's father) from La Figlia dell'Aria, allows Bartoli to express a warrior-like vengeance. She sings "Casta diva" (without its cabaletta) in a mesmeric whisper and the effect is ravishing, although we probably would not want to hear her sing the entire role of Norma. Conversely, the final scene from Sonnambula, both aria and cabaletta, with Malibran's embellishments, is splendid, and you wonder what the entire score must be like sung by a lower-sitting, somewhat darker-than-usual voice without the (invariably added) high notes.
A "Rataplan" with snare drum written by Malibran herself finds Bartoli hamming it up, with rolled Rs for effect. An aria by Persiani from Inez di Castro with harp, cello, and flute accompaniment is smooth and tender. Hummel's "Air à la Tyrolienne" is a yodeling air-and-variations that delights more as a showpiece than as a great work of art. Indeed, there are a few very lightweight pieces recorded here.
But the singing is the point, and we get Bartoli at her most Bartoli-like: flawless, if occasionally aggressive coloratura, whispers that are welcome unless they turn too breathy, mannerisms that enchant until they irritate. But as vocal display, where else could we possibly get tension-free singing from low-E to high-C at every dynamic level, impeccable diction and involvement even with the most obvious or banal texts, trills and legato singing that are an object lesson in bel canto, and sheer enjoyment in performing?
Adam Fischer and the Orchestra La Scintilla are fine partners for Bartoli, with the strings playing crisply, tempos and style just right. For fans of Bartoli and for the musically curious, this is a delight. Decca's presentation, with essays, photos, et al, is spectacular.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
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