Cecilia Bartoli & Orchestra La Scintilla Zürich

Vocal items:
Arias from Balfe‘s The Maid of Artois, Bellini‘s La sonnambula, García‘s La figlia dell’ aria, Persiani‘s Ines de Castro and Rossini‘s La Cenerentola & Otello
Air à la Tyrolienne

Orchestral pieces:
Violin Concerto No.7 – Andante
Concertino for Clarinet – Andante
García’s La figlia dell’ aria – Overture
Octet, Op.20 – Scherzo [orchestrated by composer]
Il barbiere di Siviglia – Tempest
Il Signor Bruschino – Overture

Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano)

Orchestra La Scintilla Zürich
Ada Pesch (violin & leader)

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 19 December, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Cecilia BartoliFirst came an apology for a cold. Did the indisposition account for much quiet, reserved singing? The Persiani aria was very inward, sung so quietly that I wondered if it would carry to the farthest reaches of the Barbican Hall. Nevertheless, it was sung with much feeling and a good line, as was the Mendelssohn piece about lost happiness. One doubts if Cecilia Bartoli’s fans would be satisfied without hearing her fizzing through cascades of rapid-fire scales in her inimitable manner. Despite including a number of slow arias, she did deliver what some describe as ‘machine-gun’ notes as she deals with fast divisions, notes which non-admirers say are not linked. They are very much her trademark, their speed being something to wonder at if not enjoy.

One knows that she can sing Cenerentola’s rondo but one is never sure what variants she will introduce. Here it was in the first section, “Nacqui all’ affanno”, that she inserted some delightful little cadenzas and ornaments before launching into “Non più mesta”, through which she bubbled and bounced, catching the sheer brio of the piece.

More Rossini came with the ‘Willow Song and Prayer’ from “Otello”. This is a long, slow scene, which struck me as rather listless in this performance. The word ‘artifice’ entered my thoughts. The short Balfe ballad was pretty; the Hummel Variations rather daft, more fitting for the encores. Someone behind me remarked that she was brave to sing it in public: because of the music, not her ability.

The Bellini excerpts, “Ah, non credea” and its cabaletta “Ah, non giunge”, are superior fare and crowned the second half. The beautiful aria was caressed on a smooth line and the cabaletta sparkled. They completed the printed programme, followed by three encores, the final one being a repeat of “Non più mesta”. The first was “Rataplan”, a song by Maria Malibran, whom the recital was honouring. It is an amusing number, which Bartoli despatched with glee. Then came an aria from “El poeta calculista” by Manuel Garcia, Malibran’s father, in which two guitarists and a castanet-player were joined by two men who simply tapped their feet and clapped by way of accompaniment.

The orchestra, conductor-less but led by Ada Pesch, consisted of about 33 members. Pesch played sweetly in Bériot’s slow movement. The scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Octet was attractively performed, the melodies flittering and dancing. Even a skilled small orchestra is less than tempestuous in Rossini’s storm, but this worthy group, formed from the Zürich Opera Orchestra and playing ‘period’ instruments, provided enjoyable music-making, whether alone or supporting the singer.

All in all, this was a pleasant evening in a Hall which is not entirely suited to Bartoli’s many gifts. At the end her fans were not only adoring but roaring.

  • Concert repeated on 21 December at 7.30 p.m.
  • Barbican

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