Despite the hype that has accompanied the appearance of this album, there is enough beauty in it to break your heart. Cecilia Bartoli's voice has never been more utterly gorgeous than in these attempts to re-create the work of early nineteenth century diva Maria Malibran. Bartoli's range, control, and power are stunning - and need to be. Which is my favorite track? Probably the one to which I am listening! But there are certainly particular revelations. The album would be worthwhile if only for Mendelssohn's "Infelice." "It is unbelievable," says Bartoli on the accompanying DVD, "that this piece was not performed for a hundred and eighty years." Unbelievable, indeed! The piece is beautiful. Some tracks are fun, notably Malibran's own "Rataplan" - which does not alter the fact that it is also both charming, and very difficult to sing well. Pacini's "Dopo tante e tante pene," composed for Rossini's "Tancredi," shows off Malibran's (and Bartoli's) wide vocal range, as does Halévy's "Come dolce a me favelli," which at one point soars from low B flat to high A" (on Bartoli's part, as it seems, effortlessly). Manuel Garcia's popular "Yo que soy contrabandista" serves to remind us (and especially on the DVD) that Bartoli thought seriously about being a Flamenco dancer before she chose to be a singer. It seems clear that Malibran (and Giuditta Pasta) were what we should now regard as mezzo-sopranos, in the light of which, Bartoli is willing to challenge the modern assumption that associates a number of Bellini's roles more or less exclusively with sopranos. So the CD culminates in a rendering of Bellini's "Casta diva" that is a formidable and moving statement of Bartoli's assertion that many of the piece's difficulties can be more easily solved by a mezzo-soprano - and especially, of course, when it is performed, as here, at something close to the concert pitch that will have been envisaged by the composer.
There are, I confess, elements in the DVD that I could have done without, notably the slightly hokey shots of Bartoli singing (or pretending to sing) while wandering about in an empty theatre. But the DVD does also give us some, as it appears, genuine glimpses of the creative process. Elements in Bartoli's own character - her sense of fun, her enthusiasm, her delight in and generosity towards her fellow musicians - bubble through these glimpses, as do also the creativity and commitment of others, among them Christopher Raeburn, Adam Fischer, and the Orchestra La Scintilla. Of course La Bartoli has an ego - nobody could achieve what she achieves without it - but it is remarkable, in watching her work, to observe the extent to which, as far as she is concerned, the enterprise is so obviously about the music and Maria Malibran, and NOT about Bartoli. Overall, I have no hesitation in awarding five stars for everything and everyone involved in this splendid album.