Don't hate this album because it has been beautifully marketed, for if you do you'll miss out on something extraordinary. Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli reportedly worked on it for three years, even suggesting a mystery-novel tie-in, and her label, Decca, kept the contents under wraps until the album's release, dropping hints via Internet videos. When the album appeared, it was issued in a limited-edition hardbound package including numerous essays covering aspects of the life of the composer involved, Agostino Steffani.
This was to be the end of the line for Italian word-setting by Viennese composers: once the confident sentiments that belonged to the poet Metastasio's opera seria felt the chill and threatening wind of Enlightenment and Revolution, their time was up. Even we, for the most part, prefer to remember the German-speaking Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn. So it is good to be reminded of their responses to the Italian muse (usually as part of their craft-learning student work) in this particularly well-cast recital. Central Europe, in the person of Andras Schiff meets Italy, in Cecilia Bartoli, to delightful, often revelatory effect.
In collaboration with Giovanni Antonini, Riccardo Minasi and Maurizio Biondi, Cecilia Bartoli restores the sound and spirit of Norma in a landmark Decca recording based on the opera’s original sources. Cecilia Bartoli leads a fabulous cast in Decca’s groundbreaking new recording, which presents Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma in a form that is complete with the exquisite mix of vocal and instrumental colours that Bellini intended for his ‘tragic opera’.
The Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli is one of the most charming and talented singers to appear on the scene in recent years, and this collection of Italian songs by three great opera composers–Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini–is a most deserving bestseller. There are many small pleasures in the selections, which reflect the bel canto predilections of their authors, and Bartoli renders them artfully. Some will be familiar even to casual listeners (Rossini's La Danza, the famous tarantella); others will be new to most, but equally deserving of a hearing. The sensitive and skillful accompaniment is by conductor-pianist James Levine.
Rossini composed comic operas of the bel canto repertoire, which were very popular in the first half of the 19th century. Rossini's music was sparkling, inventive, Mozartian, and the vocal lines of his operas were showcases for tenors and sopranos of the day. Rossini popularized comedy in opera. It was his Barber Of Seville that began a tradition that is still strong to this very day. In the first half of the 19th century, tenor Manuel Garcia and his daughters, both of them acclaimed mezzo sopranos, delivered masterful performances of Rossini's operas…
By Rachel Garret