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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cecilia Bartoli, "The Vivaldi Album"

Cecilia Bartoli
"The Vivaldi Album"
Decca (1999)

1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die

Undoubtedly, you are familiar with dozens of classical opera performers. No? No kidding. Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras might ring a bell, but that's only because they form The Three Tenors, the supergroup (if you will) of opera. Pavarotti is certainly the face of "popular" opera, but a fellow Italian has outsold even him. Cecilia Bartoli, the most recognizable female opera vocalist today, currently holds the title of "best-selling classical artist in the world." Moon focuses on her "The Vivaldi Album" as the best way to take in her work.

Many Baroque composers dabbled in opera, but Moon lays out why Vivaldi was the obvious choice for Bartoli in two reasons. For one, Bartoli is a mezzo-soprano, the middle-range voice for female vocalists. She is renowned for her flexibility, often conquering soprano (the more common lead voice) pieces, but Vivaldi was more ideal because he featured Bartoli's voice of choice at the fore more frequently. Secondly, like Vivaldi, Bartoli is Italian. She had recorded her fair share of Mozart and Haydn, but in this instance she bats for the home team.

This album provides an easier listen for relative newcomers to opera (of which i consider myself), and may be more problematic for experienced opera-goers (of which, I consider my grandmother). First, the good news for newbies: It's easier to pay attention to. The major element holding many younger listeners back from classical opera is that performances aren't usually in English, a problem that older audiences have learned to deal with. Couple this with onstage theatrics, and the viewer/listener gets confused and fazes out. "The Vivaldi Album" is almost a "best of" compilation, gathering parts from many of the composer's works and even whittling those sections into the more melodic moments. This allows a casual listener to get lost in Bartoli's vocal beauty, without bothering to wonder what it all means.

The reason this might pose an issue to opera purists is that it's frustrating for someone who wants to hear the complete movement or full piece. Someone familiar with "Giustino" may not be satisfied to hear the two movements presented here. Overall however, even the prickliest fans should be able to ignore the lack of plot development and enjoy Bartoli's virtuosic voice.

The various works included allow for a variety of styles as well. There are some soporific downers, like "La Fida Ninfa - Dite Oimè," but the upbeat Baroque passages will be more fun for a new listener. Check out "Depo Un'Orrida Procella" or "Giustino-Sventurata Navicella" to hear Bartoli's impressive staccato, or repeating the same note at a high rate of speed (and then try it yourself to recognize how difficult it is).

Don't listen to opera? No problem. A good way to start is at the top, with the world's best-selling artist for the genre.

INTERESTING FACT: "Dabbled in opera" is a misleading way of phrasing my earlier statement. Vivaldi swam in it. The composer himself claimed to have penned 94 operas, although proof of only 50 has been found thus far, and only 20 of those were complete enough to be performance-worthy. You never know what might show up however. Such was the case for Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.

"Giustino-Sventurata Navicella"


  1. I totally agree-- of all the operas I have heard from the book (almost halfway through, alphabetically) this was the easiest for a newbie like myself to enjoy. Her voice is incredible and the melodies are immediate. You can stream the whole thing here:

  2. I would also recommend commercials for 877-CASHNOW as a good starting point as well.