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Bartoli's voice is beatiful, her performance in mesmorizing

Homage to Rossini
Bank of Boston Celebrity Series.
Jordan Hall, Friday, Feb. 21.

By Allen N. Jackson

The esteemed Bank of Boston Celebrity Series is currently celebrating its fifty-third anniversary as a foundation for the erection of classical performing arts. In accordance with this, principal guest artist Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano, proclaimed herself heir-apparent to the grand Marilyn Horne Friday evening. In homage to composer Gioachino Rossini, who wrote Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Guillaume Tell Overture, Bartoli beguiled an eager Jordan Hall audience with her passionate recital of the composer's song works.

Bartoli's austere performance is one part of her American tour, with accompaniment by famed pianist Martin Katz. Katz has performed regularly with such operatic greats as Kiri Te Kanawa, Kathleen Battle, and Jose Carreras. But it was Cecilia Bartoli who made a profound impression upon the psyche. In six song groups, she called upon her muse to awaken the romantic and impressionistic side of everyone in attendance.

The two most august selections were Aria di Cerere, from Le nozze di Teti di Peleo, and Bel raggio lusinghier, from Semiamide, which capped off the first and second halves of the performance, respectively. But all of the selections were profound, properly mixing the piano accompaniment as a spice to Bartoli's voice. Depending on the moment of intonation in a song, she could send the lyrics gliding out on Aeolian murmurs, or smiting at a sforzando crescendo!

The evening never seemed to fall below the star-filled firmament, and I'm certain Cecilia Bartoli led even the dreams of those foolish enough to fall asleep. It certainly was a refreshing change from these hollow halls of technical autocracy and mechanical aesthetics. Yet it required not a dram of technical music appreciation, only the ability to perceive an innate beauty. Veneration of Bartoli, or of the musical acumen of Rossini, required the artistic minimum of cultural awareness. Even without an understanding of the text, one could enjoy the evening in its complete removal from a discourse on the triple-alpha process or molecular orbital theory. It was an evening designed for utter self-indulgence.

At times, the power and beauty of her honeyed voice simply glazed across the audience, mesmerizing even the most adamant anti-culturalist. On the flip side, she could soar to a scintillating fortissimo, reminiscent of Mozart's Der Hoolle Rache Kocht aria from his final opera Die Zauberflote.

The second half of the Rossini recital created a revelry of sorts as the hotter passions of the audience became riled: Bartoli received roses from her enamored admirers and three standing ovations. Need I say that it was a rare and radiant evening?

Although Bartoli, a 25-year-old Rome native, is relatively new to the American opera scene, her name has been established in Europe for quite some time. She debuted at the age of nine in Puccini's Tosca at the Rome Opera; she has since been invited to work under the batons of maestros Barenboim and the late great Karajan.

Her 1991-1992 schedule in Europe would flabbergast even the exceptional MIT student, so it was a rare treat indeed to have her debut in Boston. That schedule has her working with conductors Giuseppe Sinopoli and James Levine, to name a few, and takes her from England to France to Italy and back. Her season ends in Bologna with a performance in Le Cenenterola, led by the baton of Riccardo Chailly.

Bartoli's work and the mastery of Rossini can both be captured on her recordings, available from London Records. Rossini Song Recital and Rossini Arias are now available, and Rossini Heroines arrives in March. I also roundly suggest that you investigate the Jordan Hall Conservatory's upcoming engagements, which include the violinist Midori, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and pianist Emmanuel Ax. The performances are certain to provide a series of originally refreshing evenings.