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Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón
16 Dec 2015

Kindred Spirits: Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón at the Concertgebouw

Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has been a regular favourite at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam since 1996. Her verastile concerts are always carefully constructed and delivered with irrepressible energy and artistic commitment.

Kindred Spirits: Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón at the Concertgebouw

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón


Tenor Rolando Villazón was set to make his Concertgebouw debut in 2009, when he had to cancel the engagement for medical reasons. Reluctant to cancel a second time, in 2013 he sang an all-Verdi concert with a throat infection. Happily, this tandem concert with Ms Bartoli found him in healthier voice. In a rewarding programme with music by Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini, the two opera stars proved to be a perfect match, in tempermant if not in vocal finesse. Both are stage savvy and have mastered the art of entertaining an audience down to the merest detail. When she entered in a sparkly, powder blue ballgown, with flowing hair and flashlight smile, Ms Bartoli was an outgoing diva in a diva-worthy creation. But when she sang the elated “Non più mesta” from Rossini’s La Cenerentola, breezily trippling through its devilishly fast runs, the gown became a Cinderella costume for this centrepiece aria. With his comic panache, Mr Villazón had the audience eating out of his hand at the click of a heel or a slant of his famous eyebrows. Which is not the say that the two stars won the public over with artificial jiggery-pokery. Their warm personalities and passion for music are their ultimate charm weapons, and these qualities cannot be faked. Between the arias and duets, the early music ensemble Orchestra La Scintilla kept up the energy with its vibrant, woodsy sound. There was plenty of drama in the vivacious overtures, although not all entrances were tidy and the fine dosing of a Rossini crescendo eluded this choice group of musicians. The scintillating woodwind solos lived up to the ensemble’s name and, in an unusual musical interlude at such events, Pier Luigi Fabretti made the oboe sing effortlessly in Bellini’s Oboe concerto in E flat major.

Both singers started with arias Mozart wrote to be included in operas by other composers, Ms Bartoli with flowing brushwork, Mr Villazón with broad, emphatic phrasing. Throughout the evening, his dynamics varied little below loud and, in view of this, “Una furtive lagrima” from Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love was not an ideal selection. The Don Giovanni-Zerlina duet from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, “Là ci darem la mano”, a puzzling substitute for the originally announced soprano-tenor duet from Così fan tutte, gave Mr Villazón the opportunity to flex his acting muscles. This seemed to free him up vocally, as well as tame his arms, which swished up and down during his solo arias. However, although his voice is darker than it used to be, it did not ring baritonal enough for the inveterate seducer. He hit his stride before the intermission, during the Adina-Nemorino duet from The Elixir of Love, “Una parola, o Adina…”. While Ms Bartoli charmingly brushed him off with her precision-steered vocalism, Mr Villazón wooed her with blood-and-guts Italianate derring-do. After the break, he continued to make up for a lack of access to softer singing by caution-to-the-wind open vowels, notes held as long as possible and maximum feeling in every letter. Such emotional generosity in a singer is hard to resist.

Mr Villazón’s brimming intensity was a determining factor in making the excerpts from Rossini’s Otello the most riveting part of the evening. An armchair and a dagger were enough for him and Ms Bartoli to create the illusion of an opera stage, though her gorgeous ivory gown with willow bough pattern must be given some scenographic credit. Although she is comfortable in soprano roles like Adina, roles with a lower centre such as Desdemona, written for Rossini’s muse and wife, Isabella Colbran, bring out the richest shades in Ms Bartoli’s voice. Her Willow Song, with gently rippling harp, proved yet again that, although she leaves audiences slack-jawed by spooling endless coloratura, she achieves true greatness in plangent tragedy. When Mr Villazón entered, coiled with rage, both singers seemed to live every moment of the confrontation. Rossini effectively sets Desdemona’s murder during a storm and the orchestra rose to the tempestuous dramatic challenge. After this tense finale, the encores could not have been more different in tone. The ebullient duo decided it was time to party. They did so with Rossini’s “La Danza”, with tambourines, a cheek-to-cheek waltz to Lehár’s “Lippen schweigen” and a clap-happy Drinking Song from La Traviata. When Mr Villazón actually drank his bubbly, all bets were off as far as the singing was concerned, but by then the public had been well and truly entertained.

Jenny Camilleri

Performers and programme:

Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; Rolando Villazón, tenor, Pier Luigi Fabretti, oboe; Orchestra La Scintilla, Ada Pesch, concertmaster.

Mozart: Overture to Così fan tutte (KV 588), “Si mostra la sorte”, KV 209, “Chi sà, chi sà, qual sia”, KV 582, “Quel casinetto è mio... Là ci darem la mano” (from Don Giovanni, KV 527), Rossini: Overture to La Cenerentola , Donizetti: “Una furtiva lagrima” (from L’elisir d’amore), Rossini: “Nacqui all'affano, non più mesta” (from La Cenerentola), Donizetti: “Una parola, o Adina...Chiedi all'aura lusinghiera” (from L’elisir d’amore), Bellini: Oboe concerto in E flat major, “Torna, vezzosa Fillide”, Rossini: Overture to La scala di seta, “Assisa al piè d'un salice” (from Otello), “Deh calma, o ciel, nel sonno” (from Otello), “Eccomi giunto inosservato” (from 'Otello'), “Non arrestare il colpo” (from Otello), “Notte per me funesta” (from 'Otello'), “La Danza”, Lehár: “Lippen schweigen” (arr. P. van Utrecht), Verdi: “Libiamo, ne'lieti calici” (Brindisi) (from La Traviata)

Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. Monday, 14thDecember, 2015

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