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Maria: The Barcelona Concert & Malibran Rediscovered
20 Sep 2009

Cecilia Bartoli: Maria

While the cover of this Decca two-DVD set mirrors that of Cecilia Bartoli's 2007 CD, Maria, the contents are not identical.

Maria: The Barcelona Concert & Malibran Rediscovered

Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano), Maxim Vengerov (Violin), La Scintilla Orchestra, Adam Fischer. conducting.

Decca 074 3252 5 [2DVDs]

$26.99  Click to buy

A tribute to the brief but memorable career of Maria Malibran (1808-1836), that studio recording itself came in two editions, one a hardback copy with bonus selections for a total of 17 tracks. Many of those selections appear on the first of this DVD set’s two discs, a film of a Barcelona concert - the date of which your reviewer could not find anywhere on the packaging or booklet. Bartoli sings 11 numbers in the 80-minute concert, supported by the small ensemble Orchestra La Scintilla, a conductor-less group led by first violinist Ada Pesch. The second disc, a documentary titled Malibran Rediscovered, follows Bartoli as she rehearses for the studio recording and researches Malibran’s life. So as Bartoli celebrates the career of Malibran, Decca celebrates Bartoli’s marketability. Strangely, though your reviewer scanned the materials carefully, he could not find a place to buy the Bartoli/Maria commuter mug or T-shirts.

But enough about the commerciality of this venture. Artistically - it is a success. Some will always find the physicality of a Bartoli performance distracting. She blinks and grimaces, clenches her fists and leans back to gather her forces. If all that effort helps her to produce the fluid, athletic vocalism that she does, it can be abided. Admittedly, at times, her consideration of the value of each word of the text - whether adjective, pronoun, or indefinite article - threatens to eclipse the greater meaning of the entire piece. In the totality of Bartoli’s presentation, her variety of tone and sheer joy in the music carry her beyond such criticisms. And she loves this music, either written for Malibran or in a couple cases, by her. An exquisite, deeply felt version of Adina’s closing scene from La Sonnambula gives way to a raucous Rataplan. The sweetness of Balfe’s Yon Moon o’er the Mountains feels all too brief in Bartoli’s ecstatic performance, although her command of English - quite strong in the conversational segments of the documentary - slips a bit at times. Strangely, a highlight of the disc, Casta Diva, does not appear on the concert disc, although a few minutes are seen in the documentary as Bartoli rehearses.

At just under 70 minutes the documentary doesn’t actually require the second disc that Decca provides, unless for reasons of premium audio quality. The documentary itself, “A Film by Michael Sturminger,” serves as much as a portrait of Bartoli as it does Malibran, but as Bartoli is such an engaging, down-to-earth personality, that adds to the piece’s appeal. She visits Malibran’s grave, rehearses for the Barcelona concert, and with her mother watches home movies of herself singing (a little Violetta of Traviata, act one!). More endearing than illuminating, perhaps, but never dull.

So consider this DVD set more than a companion to the studio recording - the live performance feels more energized than the CD set’s versions, and the documentary does its star-worshipping tastefully. Recommended.

Chris Mullins

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