Bartoli Sacrificium: She Does it Again!
Bartoli has crossed a line most unique here in sharing her magnificent obsession with the castrati of the Italian baroque. The very title of the album itself is awe inspiring and thought provoking. While the very notion of castration is abhorrent and screams against nature without it some of the most amazing, most beautiful music ever composed would have most likely never been composed. Sacrificium is about an apt a name for this project as there could possibly be.
Through 15 selections, Bartoli – brilliantly partnered by Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini – takes us on a voyage – a journey of remarkable musicmaking that is exhilarating as it is exhausting, as joyous as it is tragic and as intellectually stimulating as it is emotional. We begin the journey an aria by the nearly forgotten Porpora, Come nave in mezzo all’onde, a virtuostic exercise that shows almost every baroque trick compacted into a whirlwind lasting just 4 minutes. Bartoli sails through with an energy that is matched by the spirited ensemble and what a thrill it is to hear brass instruments play with this kind of fierce “to the devil” kind of tone and energy. Thrilling seems too gentle a word for this kind of performance.
Immediately things settle back down to earth only to rise upwards again in an entirely different direction as Bartoli and the musicians offer an inspired reading of the prayer Profezie, di me diceste from Caldara’s “Sedecia.” The final line “Let the moment that ends my days bring everlasting peace,” captured with a sound that is both captivating and heartfelt. Bartoli shows us (again) that she can hold us, can dazzle us and move us with music of such quiet gentility every bit as she can with the coloratura showpieces. Her range in this music is never less than astonishing and while her top remains bright and tightly coiled, her singing from the lower voice has never been more attractive as can be heard in these slower arias.
Throughout this set Bartoli captures our imagination and spirit and instantly transports us back centuries going to one of the most exciting – and dangerous – eras in music history. Her trills, roulades, pinpoint accuracy, sense of line, attention to details both musical and textual reveal a commitment that is never less than total and what a supreme joy it is to spend time with this set. The album is fiercely and attractively packaged, its two CDs wedged on either side of 150+ pages of essays, notes, photographs both disturbing and stunning, including the 100 page “Castrato Compendium” – an alphabetically listed mini-encyclopedia of all things castrati.
Typically I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite moment from so extraordinary a set, but having now listened to it several times – at least for the time being – will nominate Porpora’s aria “”Parto, ti lascio o cara” from his 1732 opera “Germanico in Germania.” One of the slower paced arias (with a fierce, short-burst of a “B” section), it is as beautiful and perfectly sung a piece of music as I can ever recall hearing.
Lovers of baroque opera, of the beauty of the human voice as well as those fascinated by undiscovered musical treasures should all have good reason to rejoice. The sacrifice has been made, and we’re all the richer for it.