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Bellini: La Sonnambula / De Marchi, Bartoli, Flórez, D'Arcangelo

Release Date: 02/24/2009 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 001238302   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Ildebrando D'ArcangeloCecilia BartoliJuan Diego Flórez
Conductor:  Alessandro de Marchi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scintilla Chamber OrchestraZurich La Scintilla Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

R E V I E W S:

Bartoli and Flórez paired for the first time in the ultimate bel canto vehicle

Cecilia Bartoli continues her Maria Malibran homage with one of the historic mezzo’s most famous roles. She is joined by Decca’s other big opera star, Juan Diego Flórez, and they make a striking pair. He is all vocal fireworks and liquid tone, she luxurious of voice, dramatically intense. A treat for Bellini fans and how often can you say that nowadays?

-- Gramophone [2/2009]

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BELLINI La sonnambula Alessandro de Marchi, cond; Cecilia Bartoli ( Amina ); Gemma Bertagnolli ( Lisa ); Liliana Nikiteanu ( Teresa ); Juan Diego Flórez ( Elvino ); Ildebrando d’Arcangelo ( Rodolfo ); Peter Kálman ( Alessio ); Javier Camarena ( Un notaro ); La Scintilla O; Zürich Op House Ch (period instruments) DECCA 001238302 (2 CDs: 134:11 &)

As I wrote in March 2008, “There are many recordings of La sonnambula , but none is perfect.” The situation remains unchanged, though this latest recording has a great many positive aspects. For a start, it is complete, with decorated second verses for the cabalettas, and even the duet for two trumpets before Elvino’s aria. An editorial note tells us that the new critical edition was used, with three transpositions downward (the two duets for Amina and Elvino and Elvino’s aria), which means that listeners following with the standard Ricordi score will hear what they see on the page and not the manuscript’s higher keys, unlike the Dessay recordings which make further transpositions downwards. (For further information, see my Critics’ Corner in May 2008.) This is also the first recording of Sonnambula using a “period” orchestra, though not the first Bellini opera. The orchestra plays at 430 Hz, which means that the music sounds a quartertone lower than what the eye sees on the page. Alessandro de Marchi’s broad experience of the operatic world stands him in good stead, though his occasional frenetic pacing may seem exaggerated. Curiously, one of the most important instruments in this version is the triangle, whose reverberations—reminiscent of Alpine bells?—linger after many of the ensembles.

The new recording puts to rest the notion of a Malibran version of the opera, though it is strange that Adrian Mourby’s notes constantly refer to Malibran and Pasta as mezzo-sopranos. I would suggest that they conform more to Grace Bumbry’s description of herself as “a singer who uses all of her voice” (to which list one might add Shirley Verrett or Jessye Norman). And those extensions up to high D and E? are certainly not within the range of most mezzos. Bearing all this in mind, Cecilia Bartoli encompasses all the notes but that E?, sings “Ah non giunge” with a plainer first verse than written as is now the custom, but lacks the simplicity or courage to let the music speak for itself. The affectations often get in the way of communication, whether the confidential breathiness or the need to literally palpitate while singing the word “palpitar.” In the theater one might react differently, as one is dealing with several elements and not only the musical execution. Juan Diego Flórez matches his other performances in both expressivity and technique, though the tone itself is monochromatic. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s Rodolfo is occasionally stentorian, but that may also be a question of microphone placement. Gemma Bertagnolli’s Lisa makes the most of her two little arias, occasionally emulating Bartoli’s breathiness in her first aria. Liliana Nikiteanu’s Teresa, like many another singer of this role, is slightly troubled at the higher reaches but is otherwise sympathetic in her defense of her daughter.

For the first time, here is what the French would call an almost “philologically” correct performance of Sonnambula , but it is more than just that as it is full of life, whatever criticisms one may have of individual elements. It certainly belongs at the top of the list of recorded versions, with a strong recommendation of the Bernstein/Callas recording, however awful the sound, however hard the chorus struggles with the conductor’s tempos, but Callas is clearly the role model for Amina, and she and Bernstein are absolutely demented in the cabalettas. Cesare Valletti’s tenor is more limited than that of Flórez (few high notes), but he achieves greater tonal variety.

FANFARE: Joel Kasow
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Works on This Recording

La sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Bass), Cecilia Bartoli (Mezzo Soprano), Juan Diego Flórez (Tenor)
Conductor:  Alessandro de Marchi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scintilla Chamber Orchestra,  Zurich La Scintilla Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1831; Italy 

Featured Sound Samples

La sonnambula: Act I: "Prendi, l'anell' ti dono"

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