WORKS: Italian arias
PERFORMER: Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano); Berlin Academy of Ancient Music
CATALOGUE NO: 467 248-2
Bartoli follows up her Vivaldi excavations with this equally enterprising foray into Gluck’s uncharted early Italian operas. There are occasional routine or garrulous stretches of writing here; but most of these numbers – above all the three magnificent tragic scenas from La clemenza di Tito – have a dramatic power and lyrical pathos, marked by Gluck’s characteristic mixture of spareness and sensuality, that should scotch the notion that Orfeo appeared like a bolt from the blue.
Each of these suffering heroes and heroines is brought to life by Bartoli with passionate conviction and an astonishing palette of colour. Her famed coloratura, rising unflinchingly to top C sharps and Ds, can be light and limpid or steel-hard as the situation demands; and with her minutely sentient response to every nuance of drama and character, she invariably makes Gluck’s da capo arias into dynamically evolving structures. Here and there Bartoli can overdo that breathy, cooey tone which has become something of a mannerism – the dulcet minuet aria from Il Parnaso confuso is a case in point. And admirers of true bel canto singing may sometimes hanker after broader, smoother phrasing, and a more seamless integration of registers. But there’s no denying the conviction and charisma of Bartoli’s performances, abetted by the typically colourful, high-octane accompaniments of the Berlin Academy. What price now a complete La clemenza di Tito starring La Bartoli as Vitellia? Richard Wigmore