Sacrificium: The Art of the Castrati

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: A film by Olivier Simmonet
PERFORMER: Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano); Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini
CATALOGUE NO: 074 3396

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Cecilia Bartoli’s commitment to the rediscovery of the repertoire of the castrato continues here in audio-visual form. Here are performances of the arias from her earlier CD (reviewed Christmas 2009) presented live in the grand Baroque setting of the Royal Palace at Caserta, near Naples – a building dating from a few decades later (1752-80) than the music she sings (1720-40).

Bartoli’s vocalism is characteristic in its virtuosity – she pulls of feat after feat in delivering hundreds of notes at rapid-fire speed, with outstanding breath control in the long lines of the slow arias – even if marred by the odd mannerism in her attack and a tone quality that sometimes borders on the ugly. But there’s commitment and understanding of both texts and notes in every bar.

The arias, despite almost all of them being rediscoveries from a lost era, are well worth hearing, and some of them – the moving lament ‘Sposa, non mi conosci’ from Giacomelli’s Merope, the ingeniously flamboyant ‘Nobil onda’ from Porpora’s Adelaide, the extremely pretty bird song ‘Usignolo sventurato’ from the same composer’s Siface – musically exceptional; and Bartoli’s musicianship is well supported by the vivid period-instrument orchestra, Il Giardino Armonico, and its conductor.

Bartoli wears some striking costumes for the filming, designed by Agostino Cavalca (whose opera designs are well known from their use in Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser productions) and herself speaks with intensity and knowledge of the phenomenon of the castrato in a nine-minute bonus feature.

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In addition, there’s a visual tour of the Caserta complex, one of the grandest architectural creations of its period and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. George Hall