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Bartoli, Pappano return to Rome for Bach & Mozart at Auditorium Parco Della Musica / theartsdesk review

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Wherever you are in the world, opportunities to see Cecilia Bartoli perform are hard to come by. A one-off chance to see her sing Mozart in Rome was not to be missed. This was a rare homecoming for Bartoli. Born in Rome, she studied at the city's Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia where many members of the orchestra teach. A quarter-century and more ago, she made her name in Mozart: as in irrepressibly cheeky Cherubino; a Zerlina more than capable of standing up to the Don's predations; a Dorabella who always seemed to know better than her sister. She does not do doormats.

Agreeing to appear, then, in the orchestra's cavernous home at the Renzo Piano-designed Parco della Musica was – to put a charitable spin on it – a generous gesture. From halfway back in the stalls, one heard 50 percent Bartoli, 50 percent echo. Still, she knew her audience. And, boy, did  they know her. Cries of "Evviva" rang out as soon as she appeared in the first of her four costumes for the evening. In Exsultate, jubilate, her vocal divisions flew in all directions like petals from a bouquet of brandished roses (more of them later). She still has a machine-gun lower-register that spits notes like tank shells. And she hugely over-compensated for the cavernous acoustic with a vocal personality that reached out from the stage and grabbed every audience-member by the lapels, and by some more intimate parts too. Her top C in the final "Alleluja" was nudged out mezzo-forte with the wisdom of experience.

It takes a force of nature to upstage the well-loved Antonio Pappano, no less at home here, and he ruefully acknowledged, "We have our Saint Cecilia here." But the evening was billed as a birthday party for Mozart, born 261 years ago, and the celebrations were not all about Bartoli. The first half concentrated on the sacred side of the composer's protean musical personality, and the well-drilled Chorus of Santa Cecilia turned in performances of Misericordias Domini and Ave verum that more than made up in Verdian passion for what they may have lacked, to dessicated English ears, in Classical refinement.