Cecilia Bartoli


MUSIC: Bartoli Croons Her Tunes, Public Swoons

Opera superstar Cecilia Bartoli is probably the only artist with the sales clout to get a major corporation to invest in a studio audio-only opera recording. Since I love audio-only opera recordings (in many ways they hold up better on repetition than operas on DVD, because seeing the same thing over and over again is somehow more tiresome than just hearing it over and over), I’m glad that she was able to get Decca records and its parent company, Universal, to record her in Bellini’s La Sonnambula. This bel canto opera about a young woman who sleepwalks is revived fairly often, mostly because it is the perfect star vehicle: the female lead is practically the whole show — the tenor is also important, but not nearly as important as she is. Also, the heroine gets to spend much of her time lamenting and going mad (plus a few happy moments and, surprisingly, a happy ending), and there’s nothing a prima donna likes better than acting sad and/or crazy. So since the revival of interest in Bellini, there have been a number of revivals of the piece for singers who were famous and popular enough to sell tickets; Maria Callas did a famous revival in the ’50s at La Scala in Milan, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Since she switched to the soprano repertory from her original mezzo-soprano range, Bartoli has been interested in paying tribute to the great divas of the early 19th century, particularly Maria Malibran, who was the subject of her last recital album. Here she continues her Malibran tribute by using cadenzas that the Italian superstar (who was born in 1808, 200 years ago) used when she sang Sonnambula. And the orchestra uses period instruments, which not only creates more of an authentic 19th century sound but gives a little more of an edge to Bellini’s music, which can often sound sappy by comparison with the more macho operas of Rossini or Verdi. (Because Bellini’s operas usually concentrate on suffering women and give short shrift to the men, he’s sometimes thought of as kind of a “girly” composer, particularly by male fans who seek more violence and toughness in opera.) The recording is well-produced, well-thought-out, and Decca has partnered her with its star tenor, Juan Diego Florez.