What does a greatest hits album look like from an artist who insists on taking the road less traveled? The answer may be found in our Album of the Week: Cecilia Bartoli's Sospiri, a collection of lyrical operatic scenes and arias extending from Handel and Mozart to Rossini, Bellini and Fauré, with several lesser-known gems along the way.
Bartoli, of course, is one of opera’s true superstars, having sold more than 10 million albums and won numerous international awards. Yet in recent years, the Italian singer has also been formidably elusive artist. She performs only in a limited number of venues, and seldom in New York. She last appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in 1998, as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro; there are no scheduled American appearances on her calendar in the coming year.
Nevertheless, Bartoli's regular album releases are unfailingly lavish events. This collection comes in both in a standard CD/download but also in a two-disc "prestige edition," with a 56-page hardcover book. Musically, it's a fine snapshot of her wide-ranging tastes, ebullient personality and stylistic insight. There are arias by Mozart and Rossini, the two composers that made her name in the 1990s, including a new interpretation of Rosina’s "Una voce poco fa" from The Barber of Seville.
There are also the more obscure corners of the baroque repertoire that Bartoli has helped uncover with scholarly detail: the despairing monologue from the title character in Vivaldi’s Farnace; the exquisitely plaintive “Quel buon pastor” by Caldara; and the dramatic “Sposa, non mi conosci” by Giacomelli. While Bartoli has sung less 19th-century Italian repertoire in recent years, this collection has some of that too. Particular standouts include Mascagni's popular “Cherry duet” with Luciano Pavarotti and Bellini’s “Ah! Non credea mirarti” with Juan Diego Florez.
More than two decades into her career, opinion remains divided on Bartoli: some find her singing too mannered, too self-consciously eccentric. Perhaps. Yet it's that same charisma and unpredictability that makes her an artist continually worth watching.
What do you think? Have a look at this video and weigh in below in the comments section below.
Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano