Déjà Review: this review was first published in May 2003 and the recording is still available.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Voi avete un cor fidele (1775)
Vado ma dove? Oh Dei!, K 583 (1789)
Giunse alfin il momento – Al desio di chi t’adora, K 577 (1789)
Un moto di gioia mi sento, K 579 (1789)
Bella mia fiamma, addio, K 528 (1787)
Symphony No. 38 in g, K 318 (1779)
Cecilia Bartoli (soprano)
Concentus Musicus Wien/Nicolaus Harnoncourt
rec. live, 14 July 2001, Styriarte Festival, Graz, Austria
Opus Arte OA0820D DVD [113]

I have had a problem with Bartoli in that I knew a music brat in grammar school who vaguely resembled her, and this has hindered my appreciation of her — until now. But here she sings beautifully, face right in the camera, gorgeous hair and skin, demonstrating her agile high coloratura and rich low range, perhaps overdoing the dramatics just a little. The famous eyebrows have been tamed, and she manages to smile all the time while she’s singing except, of course, when the music requires a tragic visage. And the audience goes crazy! This being unfamiliar music we are probably not ever going to hear it any better than this.

It used to be required of an opera singer that he or she raise welts in the far back row under the balcony where the music critics sat in those gigantic concert halls. Naturally such power required a large platform from which to launch it. In the mid-20th century recordings brought to prominence another kind of voice, one that was supple and dramatic, capable of not just one or two good notes but of various whole good ranges of expression. Such voices were often not large, and often disappointing when heard live in large halls. Now, an additional requirement has been added—not just how they sound and how they act, but how do they look with the camera in their face? If Schwarzkopf was one of the first to pass this test magnificently, Bartoli is every bit as good. Some other singers—Ewing and Malifitano, for instance—don’t, whatever their abilities otherwise.

Of the Symphony No. 38 this is a fully sculptured performance attained after many rehearsals. Not a phrase goes by that has not been carefully worked out. In keeping with recent Mozart scholarship the high brass are more prominent that one might be used to. My two favourite performances of this work have been with Kubelik and the Chicago SO and the Leinsdorf with the RPO, but this one easily ranks with them. They must have been doing something right because the hair on my neck stood on end throughout. I could have used a little more flute, however, à la Kubelik. The orchestra plays as if it is the last thing they’ll ever do, and by the end Harnoncourt looks like he’s just been hauled out of the river. The audience at first seemed a little overawed by all this passion, but they quickly warmed up and then began shouting bravo!. All in all, a thoroughly memorable bit of work.

The behind-the-scenes video shows some interesting things. I didn’t realise that Bartoli was such an Anglophone. Harnoncourt speaks to her in English, (switching instantly to German for the orchestra, and then Italian when giving everybody their cues in the Mozart text.) and she mouths “thank you” to the Austrian audience, not grazie or danke. There is an interesting demonstration of the three remote control cameras located within the orchestra and controlled from the control room by joystick.

A video of the Haydn Scena di Berenice (due for release Summer 2003) was taped at the same time, and we have a generous preview of that; there is an unfortunate BRRRRPT on the sound track at the end of this. In the rehearsal clips Harnoncourt and Bartoli converse in English. Harnoncourt is obviously still getting used to his contact lenses and makes some odd faces at times.

Paul Shoemaker

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Presto Music

Technical details
LPCM Stereo Dolby Digital 5.1 DTS digital 5.1 Video direction by Brian Large
PAL 16:9 anamorphic No region code Format DVD-9
Special features: filming notes (12:58) ‘In rehearsal’ (16:53)
Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish. Notes in English, German, and French