Cecilia Bartoli

Sospiri

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This compilation of selections from a number of Cecilia Bartoli's recitals from between 1994 and 2009, plus several newly released tracks, is unified by the theme of sighs, "sospiri." The music expresses a variety of moods, including sighs of resignation, relaxation, grief, ecstasy, and romantic pleasure. The first of the two CDs is devoted to secular music, much of it operatic, and the second to sacred pieces. The album should offer few surprises to anyone who has a preconceived opinion of Bartoli's vocalism. Fans of her exuberant personality and dramatic temperament will find just what they would expect, as will detractors who are put off by what they feel to be her excessive flamboyance. In any case, whatever one's opinion of the outcome, there's no denying that Bartoli throws herself into all her projects with absolute abandon. She is so deeply invested in wringing the emotional truth out of a piece that she is not afraid to let her voice stray from the principles of bel canto singing that require that tonal beauty be maintained at all times. An example is her handling of the extraordinary, anguished 10-minute scene from Geminiano Giacomelli's Merope, which exploits her remarkable range, nuanced expressiveness, technical command, and soaring, floating tone, and in which she at points practically howls with animalistic rage. Her "Casta Diva" is sung nearly entirely sotto voce, almost whispered, a controversial choice that departs from usual interpretations, but that she convincingly puts across as valid. Her performance of "Una voca poco fa" is rather disingenuously billed as "first time on CD," promising an entirely new version of Rossini's popular aria, but in fact it is the usual piece, only very freely ornamented. Other performances are less radically original, including "Ombra mai fu," "Voi che sapete," and most of the sacred selections, but Bartoli brings her trademark depth of feeling to them. The album is beautifully engineered, with sound that is consistently first-rate, and the various accompanying ensembles are never less than stellar. Sospiri may not make fans of skeptics, but listeners devoted to Bartoli's often idiosyncratic approach are likely to be delighted with the album.

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