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“Maria, the Barcelona Concert and Malibran Rediscovered”
Manuel García: E non lo vedo… Son regina from La figlia dell’aria – Yo que soy contrabandista
Maria Malibran: Oh dolce incantoRataplan
Giuseppe Persiani: Cari giorni from Ines de Castro
Felix Mendelssohn: Infelice Op. 94
Gioachino Rossini: Nacqui all’affanno… Non più mesta from La Cenerentola – Assisa al piè d’un salice…Deh, calma from Otello
Michael William Balfe: Yon Moon o’er the Mountains from The Maid of Artois
Johann Nepomuk Hummel: Air à la tirolienne Op. 118
Vincenzo Bellini: Ah! non credea...Ah! non giunge from La Sonnambula

Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano), Daniel Casares (guitar), Orchestra La Scintilla, Ada Pesch (leader), Michael Sturminger (director), Matthias Leutzendorff (producer [concert]), Peter Wirthensohn (producer [film])
Recorded in Barcelona (November 4, 2007 [Concert] & 2008 [Documentary] – 147’
Decca Music Group # BOO12571-09-DX2 – Booklet in English only, subtitles in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Catalan

Cecilia Bartoli’s insatiable musical curiosity has led to the exploration of a plethora of melodic gems in various genres, notably those of the Baroque era with Opera Proibita, a CD and series of recitals celebrating various vocal offerings kept under operatic wraps given certain moral and political restrictions of the day. The diva’s recent endeavors have taken her into the next century, to the golden age of the Italian bel canto as exemplified by legendary diva Maria Malibran, daughter of the great Manuel García and sister to the celebrated Pauline Viardot. 2008 brought the release of Maria, an aria recital devoted to selections from Malibran’s favorite repertoire; a complete recording of Bellini’s Sonnambula soon followed, and the project has even spawned a Malibran “mobile museum” dedicated to the 19th-century singer, whose life and career have attained an almost mythical status in operatic lore.
We now have been given Cecilia Bartoli – Maria, the Barcelona Concert and Malibran Rediscovered, a double DVD set which includes a delightful concert of many of Malibran’s signature arias, performed with the Orchestra La Scintilla at Barcelona’s stunning Palau de la Música Catalana, as well as a documentary-style traversal of Bartoli’s journey in discovering the essence of her illustrious predecessor.
Bartoli’s admirers should be well pleased with the recital. Evaluation of a voice through an electronic medium is iffy at best, but the recorded evidence presented here finds the beloved mezzo-soprano in prodigious vocal estate. One might suggest that the overall dynamic range of the voice is perhaps a trifle attenuated, or that the singer appears to be deploying her resources with a trace of more conscious caution than was the case ten years ago; that said, Bartoli remains a supreme recitalist and one of the treasures of the day, with a singular ability to embody the spirit of music itself. It is fascinating to watch her in the various intros for example; the wistful mien adopted for her deeply felt account of Rossini’s Willow Song is delightfully contrasted with her humorous physicalization of Hummel’s Tyrolean Variations, which produce a barely stifled giggle from the diva. The audience eats it up, as do Bartoli’s obviously delighted colleagues onstage; this is a singer who truly lives her art with a spontaneity as rare as welcome.
Collectors who have already purchased the Maria CD should not be deterred by the near identical rep presented here, as several of the pieces greatly benefit by the frisson of live performance. Malibran’s own Rataplan, for example, is given a far more spirited reading in this recital than as offered on the audio-only version, fine as that is. The DVD also gives one the opportunity to compare what is a third available rendering of Sonnambula’s great sleepwalking scene with those already heard from the CD recital and the complete set of the opera – suffice it to say, this one wins the race by several yards, both in terms of an affectively internalized emotional resonance, and in a melting legato that gives way to an invigorating sense of joyful abandon expressed through adventuresome embellishment of the cabaletta. The fragile pathos of the Persiani aria is exquisitely rendered as well.
The concert is framed by two selections by Garcia himself. Guitarist Daniel Casares joins the singer for the final Yo Que Soy Contrabandista, a flamenco number that whips all participants to a fever pitch before bringing the event to a rousing finish.
Bartoli looks terrific in a strapless red crinoline that perfectly complements the mosaic gilt and glitz of the stunning venue. Camera direction is generally well done, though some may object to a possible overutilization of box cuts employed to display various elements of the performance simultaneously. The sound is clear and well captured.
Malibran Rediscovered, the accompanying DVD documentary, affectionately records Bartoli’s journey of discovery into all things Malibran. The developmental trajectories of both divas are loosely presented in parallel fashion, and a number of interesting tidbits emerge about both. We see the venues of each singers’ debut (a particular treat being the opportunity to hear the 8-year-old Bartoli in her first professional gig as the offstage shepherd in Tosca, lovingly pirated in surprisingly clear sound by her father from his seat in the balcony). Malibran’s birthplace in Paris is visited, as is the location of her ultimately fatal equestrian accident and her tomb in Brussels, wherein Bartoli reverently removes her hat before entering. Along the way we are treated to some dazzling shots of various Italian theatres and a wealth of Malibran portraiture and memorabilia – including her actual death mask and the riding crop she was using on that fateful day – all accompanied with Bartoli’s recorded interpretations of the Malibran repertoire underscoring presentation of the various anecdotes and locales. Though Bartoli herself is ultimately the center of attraction here, the historical material is very nicely presented and the film does a fine job of explaining Malibran’s considerable niche in operatic history. Bartoli throughout alternates from her excellent English (her admirable diction in the language also impresses in the Balfe selection of the concert itself) to a brightly pealing, earthy Italian patter. Subtitles are programmable in six languages.

This is a most enjoyable DVD set, and is absolutely essential for Bartoli fans. Those with a general interest in the glory of the Italian bel canto should relish it as well.

Mark Thomas Ketterson




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