Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mercoledi Musicale

Cecilia Bartoli is one of those singers you either adore or hate - and dont' the haters in certain quarters just go at it.  I come down firmly on the adore side of things and have since her first albums back in 1988-89.  Does she have ticks, mannerisms and some vocal faults?  Of course she does, she a human not the automaton that one gathers all the great singers from the past have been if the blog bitc quee commenters are to be believed.  Does she choose some strange repertoire?  Yes but then one can recall a few Divas of the recent past whose choice of works were - at times - just as strange (Esclarmonde anyone?).  And I have a feeling that many of the detractors have based all their opinions on armchair listening to her DVDs and CDs, particularly in North America where she has not graced a stage for several years.  And though those visual and audio recordings do capture much of what makes her both special and controversial they can't capture the magic connection she has with her audience when seen live.  All the ticks, quirks and faults disappear when she does what a diva is suppose to do - comes out on stage and galvanizes the theatre with her personality and voice.

I 've seen her on stage once -  back in 2008 in Roma and then just in concert.  However that should be remedied this coming May when she appears as Norma at the Salzburg Pfingstefestspiele.  We have tickets for the first performance - and for all the other events for what promises to be a crowded weekend: Rene Pape, András Schiff, Alfred Brendel (speaking not playing), the Hagen Quartet, Daniel Barenboim, Valery Gergiev with his Mariinsky Orchestra and Ballet.  All that in four days - it almost looks like I'm trying to make up for lost time.

Beginning from the autograph of the
Duetto da camera Pria ch'io faccia
by Agostino Steffani.
But until that performance I will have to make due with La Ceci's most recently released CD.  Mission follows in the pattern of her last few discs - here she explores the relatively unknown music of Agostino Steffani.  The period between the Early Baroque operas of Monteverdi and Cavalli is largely under represented and if only to hear music that bridges the styles of these two giants of early music and the succeeding generations it is worth the download price.  As always La Ceci shows that she can throw off the vocal fireworks in the style of the Late Baroque that have made her famous but she also shows a simplicity and delicacy in the arias that harken back to the earlier composers - often with only continuo, a viola de gamba or even a single lute as the accompaniment.

This aria from Servio Tullio (1686) has a gentle melody and a light accompaniment with the instrumental line giving as much emotional impact as the vocal line.  Its not unlike what can be heard in L'OrfeoUlisse or L'Ormindo - and that lovely dying away at the end reminds me of the ascension of Calisto to the stars in Cavalli's opera.

Ogni core può sperar;
solo il mio dee lagrimar.
La fortuna, ch’è tiranna,
mi condanna
a mai sempre sospirar.
Every heart may hope;
mine alone must weep.
Tyrannical fortune
condemns me
to sigh for evermore.

Equally lovely in its simplicity is the melding of La Ceci's voice with that Golden Boy of the countertenor world Philippe Jaroussky. Their two voices compliment each other beautifully at several points sounding like one voice. He joins her in four duets, two from Niobe, Regina di Tebe(1688), the only Steffani opera revived in recent times. Typical of operas of the time the mythological story of the fecund (16 children????) and haughty Queen Niobe is interwoven with magic spells, misplaced adore and unrequited passion. This duet combines the first two as King Creon under a magic spell believes he is in love with Niobe, who mistakenly believe him to be a god. Like the passions invoked Steffani's music seems to be built on air.

Creonte (Philippe Jaroussky)
T’abbraccio, mia Diva,
ti lego al mio cor.
Mia vita è il tuo lume,
mia gioia è il tuo ardor.

Niobe (Cecilia Bartoli)
Ti stringo, mio Nume,
ti lego al mio cor.
Tua luce m’avviva,
mia gioia è il tuo ardor.
I embrace you, my goddess,
I bind you to my heart.
your eyes are my life,
your ardour brings me joy.

I hold you close, my god,
I bind you to my heart.
Your light enlivens me,
your ardour brings me joy.

In an interesting tie-in Donna Leon, she of Inspector Brunetti fame, has just published her latest book, The Jewels of Paradise.  Her new book tells the fascinating story of Steffani's life as a musician, priest, diplomat and familiar of royals as seen through the eyes of Caterina Pellegrini, a young Venetian musicologist.  Caterina returns to her hometown to unlock the mystery of two trunks left by the composer and squirrelled away for three centuries in the vaults of the Propoganda Fide in Rome.  I will probably have something to say about it a bit later but did find it a good and, given its size, quick read.  It was interesting reading the copious notes in the elaborate Decca booklet and then Leon's three hundred year old mystery story.   One very big caveat where the booklet is concerned - though it goes into great detail about the court intrigues in Hanover and other places where Steffani served it is very thin about the music itself.  As fascinating as the story of poor Princess Sophia Dorothea and Count Königsmarck may be it would have been better to let Leon tell us the story and use the pages of the CD booklet to tell us about Steffani's instrumentation, the context of the arias and even a bit about the operas themselves.

In the meantime I'll echo Creon - t'abbraccio, mia Diva  or at least I embrace you latest album until I get to see hear your Casta Diva in May.

October 10 - 1971: Sold, dismantled and moved to the United States, London Bridge reopens in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

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Debra She Who Seeks said...

Looking forward to that Salzburg festival will get you through the long Canadian winter! I have a couple of Cecilia Bartoli's albums and enjoy her voice and style very much. It would be great to see her perform live!

David said...

I'm for Joanie's Esclarmonde - one of the best things she ever recorded (and a cracking piece of hokum). Ceci's Norma? Well, that will be a challenge... Hope it's not in the big house. Have always enjoyed CB on recordings and intimate venues like the Wigmore, less so at the Royal Opera. But you'll have a marvellous time at Salzburg as ever, I'm sure.