I used to think that recital albums, greatest hits albums, and concert albums were just products of a singer’s vanity—or conductor—and that they terribly lacked imagination or preparation or dramatic heft. “Greatest Hits” albums frequently suffer from this affliction, as it is, more often than not, just a mish-mash of what this soprano or that basso sings best without regard for the medium of albums. No drama, no story, just “look (or listen) at me.”
When I received this recording of Cecilia Bartoli’s Sospiri, I was a little worried: I had just finished reviewing an awful recital album and here comes another one? But from the very first notes coming from the orchestra and more so when I heard the first few seconds of Ceci’s vocal wonder, I knew this was going to be a different experience.
I remember watching the intermission video feature for the Joan Sutherland (requiescat in pace) and Marilyn Horne (save her, O Diva) Lincoln Center concert where Richard Bonynge talked about the difficulty of arranging the line-up of what is to be included in a concert/recital as opposed to an opera: how to ensure that the audience’s attention does not start to wander, or how to keep the tension delectably electric. Ceci’s album of mostly Baroque pieces, from lesser-known works of Handel to Bach, to Mozart and even Mascagni, does not suffer from this problem.
As it is full of verve, energy, insight, the album and the arrangement therein stayed true to the “sospiri”/sighs/breaths theme of deep introspection. Set rapturously aflame at the beginning with “Ombra mai fu,” every song had a somber, prayer-like quality, as if you were undergoing an intense, but ironically relaxing psychedelic experience. In fact, I suggest that you listen to this album in your next herbal excursion.
One thing that I absolutely must commend Ceci—yes she and I are great friends—for is her academic interest in the ginormous swamp that is opera, choosing to rediscover and focus on lesser-known works of the Baroque period that folks like me, your newbie to this whole opera-world-place, do not really know, if at all. “Lascia la spina cogli la rosa” from Handel’s oratorio Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno is performed in such a way that I could totally envision and feel the intrinsic intertextuality and inter-genre quality of Baroque opera as a holistic art form that combined music and dance post-Lully and Louis XIV.
The way the music is composed and performed is very choreographic as if asking the body to move along with it, for both listener, and I would guess also for the performer—more so I would surmise. Ceci is able to launch the trills with melismatic accuracy that is exciting. She decrescendos to a point and then, it’s over. Also for “Cervo in bosco,” from Leonardo Vinci’s Il Medo, the opening chords remind me of “Come nave” by Hasse. Baroque music recycles so much but almost creates this hyperconnectivity of feelings that is in my mind revolutionary.
Being unfamiliar with most of the works in this Prestige Edition—girl… just the name itself is a success, though I thought the bubbles design of the cover was a little tacky—I cannot really offer more than the instantaneous reactions I had upon listening to the pieces. For “Gelido in ogni vena,” the attack and engagement with the words is there in a way that my previous reviewee will never have for the Italian repertoire. Ceci paints a beautifully complete and complex picture of emotions. The Rs are pronounced like crazy.
Let me however say, that the “Casta diva” was a mess. Home girl did La Malibran a disservice with that recording. It was too breathy and a little weak for a high priestess trying to direct her people through an on-stage trance performance of ritual magic and symbolic domination.
Overall, this CD is worth buying as an introduction—or as a remembrance for y’all old and bitter grandmas—to Ceci’s art and to her incredible voice. I say BUY BUY BUY! I used to dislike her because I thought she didn’t have the diva comportment I look for in my idols but to hell with that. This CD, albeit I’m sure she spent no time in actually recording anything for this particular CD—mostly taken from her Mozart, Rossini, and Sacrificium albums—is a keeper.
P.S. I plan on having making love with Disc 2 playing in the background. That Stabat Mater…