Stories » There is much to savor in the 11 arias on Cecilia Bartoli's 'Farinelli' / parterre box

Top 10 for Feb

There is much to savor in the 11 arias on Cecilia Bartoli's 'Farinelli' / parterre box

Bookmark and Share

While isolated opera-lovers intently navigate the deluge of streaming videos being made available, I've been listening rather than viewing. The onslaught of recital discs devoted to 17th and 18th century vocal music continues, so I'm working my way through nearly two dozen releases from the past months for several round-up reviews.

Today brings new offerings from Cecilia Bartoli, Karina Gauvin, Simone Kermes, Sunhae Im, Kate Lindsey, Anthea Pichanick and Sarah Traubel. Each CD features rarely heard arias and cantatas and include many world premiere recordings but inevitably the singing ranges from the sublime to the… well, otherwise.

Queen of canny marketing Bartoli began teasing her latest project months before its release. Gender-bending photos and accompanying footage of the mezzo in heavy eye makeup, flowing hair and a quite-becoming beard elicited both appreciative hosannas and aghast pearl-clutching.

If her hirsute appearance originated from Christoph Loy's Salzburg production of Handel's Ariodante several years earlier, it produced an irresistible segue to Farinelli, Bartoli's latest concept album.

Some greeted the new CD with yawns as recordings dedicated to the most famous of castratos have become rather common. Over the past decade alone, Philippe Jaroussky, David Hansen, Valer Sabadus and Ann Hallenberg have each released CDs devoted to arias composed for Farinelli.

A few online commentators also whinged that Bartoli hadn't discovered any "new" pieces as most of the arias on Farinelli have already been recorded. But I suspect that Bartoli's enormous fan base will likely have heard few of these gems before.

Having celebrated her 30th anniversary with Decca several years ago, the ebullient Italian mezzo's instantly recognizable voice has changed remarkably little over the years. Those who have embraced her will find much to savor in these 11 arias, but those who shun her fussy idiosyncrasies should probably skip Farinelli. The mannered, almost whispered approach to slow arias often irritates as much as it bewitches, and the machine-gun, super-fast coloratura inevitably makes me long for a more effortless legato approach.

Three arias from Porpora's Polifemo are the disc's standouts and include the hit "Alto Giove" which expectedly also turns up on the Jaroussky, Hansen, Sabadus and Hallenberg collections.

READ THE FULL parterre box PAGE