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An Italian Songbook (Melodie Italiane)
Gioachino Rossini: Aragonese, Or che di fiori adorno, Bolero, À ma belle-mère, L’esule, La danza (tarantella napoletana)
Vincenzo Bellini: Vaga luna che inargenti, L’abbandono, Malinconia, Ninfa gentile, Il fervido desiderio, Torna, Vezzosa Fillide, Vanne, O rosa fortunate, Dolente imagine di Fille mia, La farfalletta, Per pietà, bel idol mio
Gaetano Donizetti: Il barcaiolo, Ah! rammenta, O bella Irene, Amore e morte, La conocchia, Me voglio fà ‘na casa

Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo soprano), James Levine (piano)
Recorded at Markgräfliches Opernhaus, Bayreuth (11-15 August 1996) – 67’23
DECCA 478-1380 – Booklet and Song Texts in English, French, German, and Italian

This delightful reissue is a recital dating from twelve years ago. It documents a young Cecilia Bartoli early in her recorded career in a repertoire she was born to sing. She infuses this music with an infectious joy that is difficult to resist and a pleasure to hear. It has always puzzled me that Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms hold the mainstay of concert hall song literature.
The Italian literature is often scoffed at as “salon music”. Yet what could be more “salon” than the songs of Franz Schubert, who made a career of presiding over the best salons in Europe?

The truth of the matter is that the overwhelmingly vast repertoire of 19th century Italian song is today mostly out of print. Of the 250 or more songs by Gaetano Donizetti, only 25 or 30 remain in print. The same may be said of the songs of Bellini and Rossini. Neither the Fondazione Rossini of Pesaro nor the Fondazione Donizetti of Bergamo have been forthcoming with any new editions of these songs.
Pity! It is long overdue.

Some of the most distinctive features of the Rossini songs, which for the most part date from late in his career (Sins of Old Age as he called them), are his extremely bravura and well-crafted piano accompaniments. They must rank in beauty and difficulty with those by Liszt and Rachmaninoff. Ms. Bartoli has the accomplished Maestro James Levine at the keyboard to play for her. He frequently partnered Luciano Pavarotti and Renata Scotto in this literature, and he knows the style better than almost anyone. He sets the piano ablaze with his dazzling rendition of Rossini’s Tarantella Napoletana La Danza, while Ms. Bartoli sings with such abandon that she practically dances off the recording!

The songs by Bellini, as might be expected, are elegiac, often melancholy, and always highly melodic. The little aria Vaga luna che inargenti is like a miniature Casta Diva, while the dramatically riveting L’abbandono is a full concert aria, complete with recitativo, aria, and cabaletta. The charming La farfalletta (the butterfly) is one of his earliest compositions and dates from his student days at the conservatory. Cecilia Bartoli sings this music with great nobility and sincerity, and with none of the cloying cuteness that sometimes mar her singing.

The most interesting songs for me are those by Donizetti. Like his prolific operas (we now know they number about seventy), he composed far more songs than either Rossini or Bellini. We are just rediscovering his creative genius, a vast output which has lain dormant for almost 100 years. Even his concertos, string quartets, piano music, and symphonies are beginning to resurface. Like Mozart, Donizetti could write under the direst of conditions, often composing complete works in his head and putting them to paper later with no significant changes. It did not affect his Muse. Mozart has been heralded a “Genius” for these qualities, while Donizetti was often decried as a “Hack”! His songs in this recording demonstrate a multiplicity of styles. Two in this collection are written in the Neapolitan dialect, La conocchia, and Me voglio fà ‘na casa (a favorite of Pavarotti). They are distinguished by jaunty folk rhythms and memorable melodies. The very lovely aria and cabaletta Ah! rammenta o bella Irene is as beautiful and as stirring as any of his major opera arias. Ms. Bartoli does her most impressive singing in this piece.

I will say a few final things about her vocal technique, which comes into play constantly in this music. To paraphrase Maria Callas from her master classes at the Julliard School of Music in the 1970’s: "It is not important what technique you employ. What is important is that you have a technique!" And so it is with Cecilia Bartoli. Her technique is rock solid, but the peculiar thing about it is that it is distinctly un-Italian. Her glottalized delivery of fioratura and scale passages resemble those of the famous Dutch soprano Christina Deutekom. There is none of the underlying legato, so prized by Italian singers, running through her melismas. Nonetheless, her delivery is clean as a “whistle”, and her singing exudes style and musicianship. This is one of her very best recitals.

Micaele Sparacino




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