Cecilia Bartoli has become one of the most celebrated mezzo-sopranos in the world. Her voice seems like a perfect blend of power and grace and many of her interpretations are loved for their intimacy and expressiveness. Her album Se tu m’ami (If you love me) features a collection of 18 th century Italian songs, each with a distinct personality and vocal uniqueness. Two of the selections, Scarlatti’s Son tut ta duo lo and Spesso vi bra per suo provided me with contrasting examples that demonstrate a wide range of vocal techniques and qualities.
After a brief piano introduction, Son tut ta duo lo begins with impressive leaps of the voice at the mezzo-piano dynamic. Bartoli handles this with pure agility and grace. You can hear the quiet and solemn nature of the translation “I grieve… and have nothing but anguish” and she maintains a full and rich voice throughout.
Her upper register is very warm when delivered but never too dark. Occasionally I find her consonant sounds to be muffled or inaudible within this range and at such a soft dynamic. I’m sure this is difficult to achieve with even the very best singers and would require the appropriate hall and recording environment to capture such nuance (when achieved).
At the recapitulation of the text Bartoli implores a great deal of freedom and expressiveness in her embellishments. These include legato melisma tic passages where each note has distinct weight and firm rhythm.
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Again, this shows tremendous control and musicianship. Some of the embellishments sound like tiny quivering trills and her ability to transition from them into a resolving note or cadence is absolutely beautiful. Spesso vi bra per suo seemed virtuosic to me in every sense. The opening triplet gesture is punctuated on the breath with rapid changes in dynamic. The clarity of her diction remains distinct throughout in spite of the vigorous rhythms and quick tempi.
Some of her rolled R’s seemed very rapid, tight, and at times elongated for effect. Her interpretation seems very lively and in spirit with the text. Certain words seem to receive more dramatic treatment such as “steal di ferro in nob il” (a noble heart) or the contrasting whisper of “questo man ca e quell view me no” (one victim passes away while another falls faint).
It seems rather astounding that she can deliver such subtle shades on even the most demanding of arias. In listening and learning more about Cecilia Bartoli I am not at all surprised that she has become one of the most popular opera singers of our day.
Even by this one album it is clearly evident that she has an incredible instrument. It took me a while to “warm up” to her sound but the more I listen to it, the more I realize its virtues. Even aside from her impressive technical prowess, her interpretations and musicianship are all worth noting. Every aspect of her performance seems refined and well developed. I’m impressed with her output and look forward to exploring more in the future.