Review: Cecilia Bartoli - The 'Sospiri' Tour, Australia 2011

It has been difficult to write about this recital without coming across too much as a fanboy, and I make no apologies for sounding like one, hence the reason for the delay in writing/posting this.  To be truthful though, last Wednesday's evening with Cecilia Bartoli in recital will go down as one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life.

When one talks of famous Divas it's so easy to describe in superlatives, but sometimes it's really the only way to describe their art.  In truth, Cecilia Bartoli ranks as one of the most influential talents of our time and for good reason.

Greeted by a very warm reception and resplendent in a gown of a red that almost hurt ones' eyes, she was entrancing in every aspect.  Together with accompanist Sergio Ciomei she delivered a varied program of Italian, French and Spanish songs from composers Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and rarities from Bizet, Pauline Viardot, Pauline's father Manuel Del Populo Vicente Garcia and the singer whom has influenced many of her career choices of late, his other daughter, Maria Malibran.

Sergio Ciomei was the perfect foil for Bartoli, having an engaging stage presence and a sense of comic timing akin to Bartoli herself, which itself made for entertainment, having said that he was a most sympathetic accompanist and in the quieter pieces let her engage with the audience in the way only she knows how.  It is incredible how La Bartoli is able to draw you into what sounds like the most intimate, private moments and delivering it like it is only you and her in the room.

Contrasting this is her epic talent for comedy.  She is well known for her portrayal of Rossini comic heroines, but in the flesh she is truly hilarious.  Every facial expression echoes the text and her gestures reflected every change of emotion in the music.  Particularly notable was her rendition of  Bizet's La Coccinelle, in which she engaged in a conversation between herself and a ladybug, with text by Victor Hugo.

When she picked up a pair of castanets it was with complete command and this is what she showed singing in the Spanish numbers by Garcia and those of similar flavour by Bizet and Viardot.  The last item on the program was Malibran's "Rataplan", a brief piece with the requisite fireworks delivered faultlessly, leading to standing ovation number one.

It was clear this audience wanted more, and more we got, four encores in total.  Quite a varied range of songs in fact, from the popular Non ti scordar di me, to an offering off the Sacrificium album Come Nave in mezzo all'onde from the opera Siface by Nicola Porpora.  To this day, when I think on it, recalling her sing this leaves my hair standing on end.  Even after what must have been quite and exhausting program, La Bartoli threw off trills and runs like she was a woman possessed. 
I doubt anyone in the room that night will ever expect to hear anything like it sung live again.  My only regret is that I didn't try get her autograph afterwards.  But that is a small price to pay for the privilege of having been witness to the vocal phenomenon of our generation.