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Sospiri
Arias and sacred songs by Handel, Giacomelli, Vivaldi, Caldara, Vinci, Mozart, Bellini, Mendelssohn, Persiani, Rossini, Mascagni, Bach, Gounod, Dufruflé, Franck and Fauré
Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano, various conductors and orchestras
Review By Joe Milicia

 

  Fans of Cecilia Bartoli might like to have "Deluxe Edition" of Sospiri — but they should be aware that this two-CD set, with its hardcover format and goofy photos of the mezzo-soprano diva posing with cascades of soap bubbles, is a compilation of previous Decca releases. Following the common practice of pop/rock releases, the album includes two first-time-ever cuts to tempt the completists: a world premiere recording of an aria from a baroque opera called Medo, thought to be by one Leonardo Vinci, and the very familiar Una voce pocofa from The Barber of Seville, evidently recorded for Bartoli's Maria CD but not released then (likely because the latter CD already has nearly 80 minutes of music).

As an introduction to Bartoli's art, Sospiri has one drawback: in keeping with the title, which means "sighs," the great majority of the numbers are — I hesitate to say mopey or droopy but—languid, sorrowful, somber. The original albums naturally provide more contrasts aria by aria. But there is much to be relished here — indeed, nearly everything is — from the most obscure baroque numbers to freshly approached staples of the repertoire, like the mezzo version of Casta diva from Norma and Bartoli's take on saucy Rosina's aria from The Barber. Listeners can decide for themselves whether or not Bartoli's rendering of some of the sacred songs are a little too "artful," as opposed to a pure (i.e., seemingly spontaneous) outpouring of sound.

Recording times on the two CD's are a bit lopsided, with about 78 minutes on the secular arias disc and 30 minutes for the sacred numbers. One extra attraction of the secular disc is the appearance of "guest stars" for duets (another parallel to pop CDs): Bryn Terfel as Don Giovanni for Là ci darem la mano, Jean Diego Flórez for music from La Sonnambula, and Luciano Pavarotti from a 1997 recording of the Cherry Duet from L'Amico Fritz.

The sound is consistently good over the course of about 16 years' worth of recordings, featuring six orchestras led by seven conductors. Bartoli's luscious tones are captured especially well on the more recent cuts, and orchestral detail is almost always clear and in good balance with the soloist.

 

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