RELEASED ON DECCA CLASSICS ON 17 MAY 2024

Decca Classics has assembled some of Cecilia Bartoli’s finest recordings, mixed with previously unreleased material, for a celebration of the operatic genre that has defined her career: bel canto.

Across her nearly four decades on the opera stage, coloratura mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has proved to the world that bel canto is less a technique, more a state of mind. On Casta Diva, Bartoli draws on her famous charm, dramatic conviction and energetic force to reveal that behind the vocal fireworks, bel canto is a wide-ranging, beautiful and deeply emotive musical world.

Included are unreleased recordings of two arias from Handel’s Alcina as well as duets with Luciano Pavarotti, Bryn Terfel, Juan Diego Flórez, Sumi Jo and Alessandro Corbelli.

For Cecilia Bartoli, the bel canto mindset stretches far beyond the works of the 19th-century Italian masters Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini most associated with the term, which has long denoted a particularly florid, decorative form of singing. Through scholarly research into 1800s vocal technique and orchestral sound, and her own experience on the opera stage, Bartoli has arrived at the strongly-held conviction that bel canto’s emphasis on expression and a particularly Italian form of beauty can be just as well applied to the Baroque and Classical eras.

From repertoire ranging from Handel and Porpora through Gluck and Mozart to the height of what’s considered the Italian bel canto school, Bartoli brings her unrivalled vocal clarity, articulation, evenness of timbre and technical prowess to bear on some of the most stunning arias and duets ever written. To this she adds the most important ingredients: her singular way with human drama and her unique feeling for both comedy and tragedy.

Bartoli brings rare intimacy and dignity to the disc’s title track, perhaps the most celebrated aria of the bel canto tradition – Bellini’s Casta Diva, in which the passionate druid Norma opens up her soul. We also hear from Bellini’s distraught puritan Elvira and sleepwalking Amina (for which she is joined in duet by tenor Juan Diego Flórez). A lighter tone is introduced by her duet with Luciano Pavarotti, a comic aria from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore.

Bartoli reinforces her status as a singing archeologist by brining us contrasting operatic scenes by Persiani and Pacini that crystalize the early 19th century Italian operatic style. Mozart is represented by an aria from Le nozze di Figaro and a duet from Così fan tutte (with Bryn Terfel) and Gluck by one of Sesto’s most striking arias from the composer’s setting of La clemenza di Tito.

The role of Angelina (Cinderella) in Rossini’s La cenerentola has run through Bartoli’s career like a leitmotif and provided her gateway into the bel canto repertory. She sang it in 1997 when the work had its Metropolitan Opera premiere, and most recently in 2022, when the Roman mezzo made her long-awaited debut at the Vienna State Opera. Here she sings the opera’s Act II aria ‘Nacqui all’affanno e al pianto…Non più mesta’. 

Evidence suggests Rossini believed in principles of singing established in the Baroque era and idealized the sound of the castrati. Good reasoning, then, to let Bartoli’s previously unreleased recordings of two arias from Handel’s horizon-broadening masterpiece Alcina see the light of day. The German-born composer’s great rival, Porpora, is represented by an aria from the title character his opera Sifare.

As a risk-taker and visionary who now leads both the Monte-Carlo Opera and Salzburg Easter Festival as Artistic Director, Cecilia Bartoli was quick to engage with the racial upheavals of the Historically Informed Movement and long made it her mission to transfer lessons learned in orchestras to her own vocal technique. In music spanning a century, she demonstrates in Casta Diva how fresh thinking can make music we thought we knew sound reborn.

Joining the mezzo-soprano on recordings from her Decca catalogue are conductors Riccardo Chailly, Giovanni Antonini, Alessandro De Marchi, Bernhard Forck, Myung-Whun Chung, Claudio Abbado and Adam Fischer. Distinguished modern and period-instrument orchestras include the Vienna Philharmonic, the Orchestras of the Teatro alla Scala and Teatro Communale Bologna, the Orchestra of the National Academy of Saint Cecilia, the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, Orchestra La Scintilla, Il Giardino Armonico and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.

Bartoli’s partner for previously unreleased recorded excerpts from Handel’s Alcina is her own orchestra of period instruments, Les Musiciens du Prince-Monaco, conducted by Gianluca Capuano.

‘All the Bartoli hallmarks are here: the ear-popping virtuosity, the tenderness of voice, the ability not only to describe a situation but to respond to it’

BBC Music Magazine

‘Bartoli mines the expressive and dramatic potential of the Italian language with unique intensity’

Gramophone

‘Bartoli’s coloratura wizardry is fully intact after 30 years’

The Times

TRACKLIST

01, Bellini: Norma / Act 1 Scene 1: “Casta Diva”

02, Rossini: La Cenerentola / Act II: Nacqui all’affanno e al pianto

03, Rossini: La Cenerentola / Act II: Non più mesta

04, Persiani: Ines di Castro: Cari giorni

05, Donizetti: L’elisir d’amore / Act I: Una parola

06, Donizetti: L’elisir d’amore / Act I: Chiedi all’aura

07, Bellini: Norma / Act II: Mira, O Norma

08, Bellini: Norma / Act II: Cedi! Deh, cedi!

09, Bellini: Norma / Act II: Si, fino all’ore estreme

10, Bellini: La Sonnambula / Act 1: Prendi: l’anel ti dono

11, Rossini: Il turco in Italia / Act I: No mia vita, mio tesoro

12, Rossini: Il turco in Italia / Act I: Ed osate…

13, Bellini: I puritani / Act II: O rendetemi la speme

14, Pacini: Irene, o L’Assedio di Messina / Act II: Ira del ciel

15, Bellini: Vaga luna che inargenti

16, Rossini: La danza

17, Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492 / Act II: Voi che sapete

18, Mozart: Così fan tutte / Act II: Il cor vi dono

19, Gluck: La Clemenza di Tito: Se mai senti spirarti sul volto

20, Porpora: Siface: Come Nave in mezzo all’onde

21, Handel: Alcina, HWV 34 / Act I: Di’ cor mio

22, Handel: Alcina, HWV 34 / Act III: Ma quando tornerai