Opera Proibita
(Translation: "Forbidden Operas")

Decca Classics CD 475 6924
1 CD
full price
Recorded in 2004 & 2005.
Released in 2005.



  • Alessandro Scarlatti: All'arme si accesi guerrieri (from Cantata per la Notte del Santissimo Natale)
  • A. Scarlatti: Mentre io godo in dolce oblio (from Il Giardino di Rose (La Santissima Vergine del Rosario))
  • Handel: Un pensiero nemico di pace (from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno)
  • Antonio Caldara: Vanne pentita a piangere (from Il Trionfo dell'Innocenza)
  • Caldara: Sparga il senso lascivo veleno (from La Castità al Cemento (Il Trionfo della Castità))
  • A. Scarlatti: Caldo sangue (from Sedecia Re di Gerusalemme)
  • Handel: Come nembo che fugge col vento (from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno)
  • A Scarlatti: Ecco negl'orti tuoi...Che dolce simpatia (from Il Giardino di Rose (La Santissima Vergine del Rosario))
  • A. Scarlatti: Qui resta...L'alta Roma (from San Filippo Neri)
  • Handel: Lascia la spina cogli la (from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno)
  • A. Scarlatti: Ahi! qual cordoglio...Doppio affetto (from Sedecia Re di Gerusalemme)
  • Caldara: Si piangete pupille dolente (from Santa Fracesca Romana)
  • Caldara: Ahi quanto cieca...Come foco alla sua sfera (from Il Martirio di Santa Caterina)
  • Handel: Disserratevi oh porte d'Averno (from La Resurrezione di Nostro Signor Gesù Cristo)
  • Handel: Notte funesta...Ferma l'ali (from La Resurrezione di Nostro Signor Gesù Cristo)

Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano
Les Musiciens du Louvre
Director: Marc Minkowski

Opera Proibita, following hard on the heels of Cecilia Bartoli’s ground-breaking Gluck recital, contains a themed collation of individually unrelated items that are also linked by contrasting mood and resonance. The review disc lacked liner notes, so presumably the ‘proibita’ theme is based on music composed during a papal ban on opera performances in Lent. The result was intensely dramatic music, which though unstaged was performed in richly decorated settings, with enlarged orchestras and highly-paid singers. New Grove tells us that Alessandro Scarlatti’s La Santissima Vergine del Rosario and Antonio Caldara’s Santa Francesca Romana, both dramatic cantatas, and Handel’s La Resurrezione were performed in ‘calculatedly lavish’ style at the Palazzo Bonelli in Rome in the first decade of the eighteenth century.

There is a whiff of programmatic brilliance in combining items from all three of these works, alongside others written by the same composers at about the same time. By dusting off the cobwebs from old scores, introducing some music entirely new to disc, setting unknowns against items from Handel’s Italian oratorios, and then producing utterly compelling interpretations of them, once again confirms Bartoli’s status as a singer of the very front rank. She is an edge-of-the-seat risk-taker, especially in the ornamented repeat sections, enlivening audiences everywhere and winning converts to overlooked music. Her performance here will evangelize its hearers, showing that the music has the capacity to fascinate, even when listened to repeatedly. You will be thirsty for more Scarlatti and alert to Caldara’s latent powers.

Scarlatti was about fifty years old and Caldara in his forties when Handel, at the age of an undergraduate today, burst in on the Italian scene. Bartoli reveals that all three composers offer delicious trinkets. She presents the music with missionary zeal, convincingly storming the high registers and languishing in the low. She tears into fiery pieces fearlessly with an almost impeccable discipline, as in Scarlatti’s magnificent opening aria ‘All’arme’. She is renowned for the vocal risks she takes in the coloratura, which are here given a consistent and unquestionably sincere theatrical flair—true, there may be the odd ‘scream’ here and there, but these capture something of the excitement of real performance. Her singing is guaranteed to make manly men drool with helpless delight, totally enthralled; alternatively, it will enrage lovers of smooth, unaspirated roulades.

Bartoli is strong in Scarlatti and Caldara bravura and meltingly persuasive in the more pensive songs by Handel and Scarlatti, with Handel’s arias invariably confirming the utterly uninhibited and overwhelming individuality of his musical voice. Some listeners are sure to find Bartoli’s ample sound and sure-fire vocal entrances marred by occasional ugly aspirates. But she should be forgiven for these ‘lapses’. Her thrilling response to this music, with her constantly subtle attention to verbal detail, annuls such objections: listen to Caldara’s elongated ‘Vanne pentita’ and ‘Si piangete’, and Handel’s showstopper, ‘Lascia la spina’, for proof positive.

Minkowski leads Les Musiciens du Louvre with extraordinary sensitivity to his star singer; all seem to bubble with ideas as to how this music should ‘go’. Prepare to be beguiled by Caldara’s rich string textures and strong pulse in ‘Si piangete pupille dolente’. Alternatively, when the music is bravura then that is how it is played and sung, with extraordinary flashes of excitement and infectious enjoyment. Minkowski’s contribution is scarcely below that of the diva herself. The softly throbbing accompaniment in Scarlatti’s ‘Caldo sangue’, the bucolic sopranino in ‘Che dolce simpatia’, the impassioned interpretation of ‘Che dolce’, and the lilting pastoral tone in Caldara’s ‘Come foco’ are delightful, even on the nth hearing. Minkowski offers finely judged colours, with tempos that always sound ‘right’ and crisply articulated string playing.

Bartoli’s vocal amplitude in this repertoire is a fitting platform for her considerable art. Her polychromatic voice rings out in full-throated defiance, or diminishes to half-voice, as in a daringly near-stasis ‘Lascia la spina’, as she negotiates Handel’s treacherous long-breathed phrases. This aria, the recital’s climax, has the hauntingly beautiful slow melody tested to its delicious elastic limit. Bartoli’s sensitivity to the aria’s bittersweet sentiment and her control grasp one’s indulgence. All of the Handel arias get a ravishing performance from singer and orchestra. Any reservations I had on first hearing this recital were confounded on repeat playing. This disc is a wonderful showcase for Cecilia Bartoli’s unique musical intelligence.

© Les Robarts - October 2005

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