Maria - Cecilia Bartoli
Bartoli is back. “Did she ever go away?” you ask. Well, no, but in that central spotlight which focuses upon some half-dozen leading singers, we have been less conscious of her presence, if only because it has been a constant for so long. But this new recital is a brilliant summation of her art and the special contribution it makes. At best, she has brought an individuality and sense of personal commitment to her singing, rare both in kind and degree. Voice and usage have always been fascinating, whatever their limitations. Enthusiasm, the awareness of a remarkable will-power and with it the recognition of an adventurous musical spirit in seeking out new material: all these have further distinguished her. And now she appears to have found a figure on whom she can hang all these gifts while exploring the repertoire that appeals to her most strongly.
Maria Malibran (1808_36) is now remembered for her death almost as much as for her life. In poor health, she sang in a duet which became so competitive that she determined to repeat it, thus vanquishing her rival, even if it killed her. And it did; at least, she died (in Manchester, aged 28) nine days later. The concentration of a scorching will-power is strikingly caught in Bartoli's performances: in the cabaletta of the first item, from Pacini's Irene, for instance, the phrase “mi squarcia il seno” is almost ferociously intense. Gaiety and charm were also at Malibran's command, as they are at Bartoli's in the Spanish song by the father, Manuel García, and in Maria's own “Rataplan”. The quality of her voice is variously reported (at times she was said to be practically voiceless), but there is no doubt about the magical effect of her singing upon her audiences. If it was anything like the spell Bartoli herself casts in the quiet rapture of her “Casta diva” it must have been memorable indeed.