The Vivaldi Album

Cecilia Bartoli

album cover

The Pleasures of Italy, in Sound

Cecilia Bartoli was on a two-pronged rescue mission when she undertook her own research into the baroque-era operas of Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) in the late 1990s. She was primarily interested in resurrecting the works, which are more "mannered" than modern operas, and thus not often programmed. At the same time, she was searching for palatable material to sing: Bartoli has a down-to-earth voice and jaw-dropping agility that earned her comparisons with the great Beverly Sills (see p. 518). But she's a mezzo-soprano, and the opera repertoire offers few leading roles for mezzo-sopranos. Far fewer of those are in Italian, her native language. So Vivaldi was a logical move both musically and professionally; it offers her the chance to shine on underappreciated material.

Bartoli makes the most of it. Rather than tackle large excerpts or full works, she culls arias from the composer's numerous operas—in some ways this is a highlight reel, curated by a singer who's interested in the most musically (and theatrically) compelling platforms.

Recognizing that the plot lines are fairly "stock," Bartoli emphasizes the moments when Vivaldi breaks away from the tottering niceties of baroque to offer up divine melodic morsels. These are the passages that make the hearts of musicians race, and Bartoli brings them to life with a touch of Italian pride and pronounced sensuality. She sweeps technically demanding lines into tossed-off showers of pixie dust, and though these sometimes feel showy, they're hardly just blurs of notes. She's one of those rare singers who can tear around and never land even a smidgen away from the intended pitch.

While Bartoli understands (and is capable of brilliantly executing) the theatrical element in Vivaldi, her handling of the arias tends toward gentler and more entrancing interpretations. On the aria "Zeffiretti, che sussurrate" from an unknown opera, she rolls right through the echoing effects, holding the melody with pride; she's even more resolute on "Sventurata navicella" (from Il Giustino), which has a mystical aura and a voluptuous melody. Bartoli sings it like she knows exactly how precious it is.

Genre: Classical, Opera
Released: 1999, Decca
Key Tracks: "Zeffiretti, che sussurrate." Il Giustino: "Sventurata navicella." La fida ninfa: "Alma oppressa"
Catalog Choice: An Italian Songbook
Next Stop: Douglas Moore and John Latouche: The Ballad of Baby Doe, Beverly Sills, Walter Cassel, New York City Opera (Emerson Buckley, cond.)
After That: Jessye Norman: The Jessye Norman Collection
Book Pages: 49–50

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#1 from Shay La B, UK - 01/14/2009 3:38

I have this CD and it is very good but, there is another CD that covers the same ground and improves upon it markedly.

It is by Juliette Pochin, is called Venezia and is simply stunning.

This is the CD I give as a birthday or Christmas gift when the occasion requires. Opera may not be to everyone’s taste but this is so good that transcends genre.

Opera isn’t something that I only have a passing knowledge of and most of the CDs I have are just renditions of the classics. This is streets ahead of anything else opera-related that I have ever heard.

Such books are, by their nature, filled with subjective choices and I wouldn’t normally be motivated enough to point out a ‘flaw’ in the selections…but on this occasion I think that something wonderful has been overlooked.

I really like the book and it has inspired me to go back to investigate many recordings. Jazz was always something that I didn’t quite ‘get’. The first jazz CD I ever bought was Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain but could never find anything else that I also really enjoyed…after flicking through the book last night Bitches Brew has been ordered.

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