Kindred Spirits: Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón at the Concertgebouw

Tenor Rolando Villazón was set to make his Concertgebouw debut
in 2009, when he had to cancel the engagement for medical reasons. Reluctant to
cancel a second time, in 2013 he sang an all-Verdi concert with a throat
infection. Happily, this tandem concert with Ms Bartoli found him in healthier
voice. In a rewarding programme with music by Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti and
Bellini, the two opera stars proved to be a perfect match, in tempermant if not
in vocal finesse. Both are stage savvy and have mastered the art of
entertaining an audience down to the merest detail. When she entered in a
sparkly, powder blue ballgown, with flowing hair and flashlight smile, Ms
Bartoli was an outgoing diva in a diva-worthy creation. But when she sang the
elated “Non più mesta” from Rossini’s La
, breezily trippling through its devilishly fast runs, the gown
became a Cinderella costume for this centrepiece aria. With his comic panache,
Mr Villazón had the audience eating out of his hand at the click of a heel
or a slant of his famous eyebrows. Which is not the say that the two stars won
the public over with artificial jiggery-pokery. Their warm personalities and
passion for music are their ultimate charm weapons, and these qualities cannot
be faked. Between the arias and duets, the early music ensemble Orchestra La
Scintilla kept up the energy with its vibrant, woodsy sound. There was plenty
of drama in the vivacious overtures, although not all entrances were tidy and
the fine dosing of a Rossini crescendo eluded this choice group of musicians.
The scintillating woodwind solos lived up to the ensemble’s name and, in
an unusual musical interlude at such events, Pier Luigi Fabretti made the oboe
sing effortlessly in Bellini’s Oboe concerto in E flat

Both singers started with arias Mozart wrote to be included in operas by
other composers, Ms Bartoli with flowing brushwork, Mr Villazón with
broad, emphatic phrasing. Throughout the evening, his dynamics varied little
below loud and, in view of this, “Una furtive lagrima” from
Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love was not an ideal selection. The
Don Giovanni-Zerlina duet from Mozart’s Don Giovanni,
“Là ci darem la mano”, a puzzling substitute for the
originally announced soprano-tenor duet from Così fan tutte, gave
Mr Villazón the opportunity to flex his acting muscles. This seemed to
free him up vocally, as well as tame his arms, which swished up and down during
his solo arias. However, although his voice is darker than it used to be, it
did not ring baritonal enough for the inveterate seducer. He hit his stride
before the intermission, during the Adina-Nemorino duet from The Elixir of
, “Una parola, o Adina…”. While Ms Bartoli
charmingly brushed him off with her precision-steered vocalism, Mr
Villazón wooed her with blood-and-guts Italianate derring-do. After the
break, he continued to make up for a lack of access to softer singing by
caution-to-the-wind open vowels, notes held as long as possible and maximum
feeling in every letter. Such emotional generosity in a singer is hard to

Mr Villazón’s brimming intensity was a determining factor in
making the excerpts from Rossini’s Otello the most riveting part
of the evening. An armchair and a dagger were enough for him and Ms Bartoli to
create the illusion of an opera stage, though her gorgeous ivory gown with
willow bough pattern must be given some scenographic credit. Although she is
comfortable in soprano roles like Adina, roles with a lower centre such as
Desdemona, written for Rossini’s muse and wife, Isabella Colbran, bring
out the richest shades in Ms Bartoli’s voice. Her Willow Song, with
gently rippling harp, proved yet again that, although she leaves audiences
slack-jawed by spooling endless coloratura, she achieves true greatness in
plangent tragedy. When Mr Villazón entered, coiled with rage, both singers
seemed to live every moment of the confrontation. Rossini effectively sets
Desdemona’s murder during a storm and the orchestra rose to the
tempestuous dramatic challenge. After this tense finale, the encores could not
have been more different in tone. The ebullient duo decided it was time to
party. They did so with Rossini’s “La Danza”, with
tambourines, a cheek-to-cheek waltz to Lehár’s “Lippen
schweigen” and a clap-happy Drinking Song from La Traviata. When
Mr Villazón actually drank his bubbly, all bets were off as far as the
singing was concerned, but by then the public had been well and truly

Jenny Camilleri

Performers and programme:

Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; Rolando Villazón, tenor, Pier Luigi
Fabretti, oboe; Orchestra La Scintilla, Ada Pesch, concertmaster.

Mozart: Overture to Così fan tutte (KV 588), “Si mostra
la sorte”, KV 209, “Chi sà, chi sà, qual sia”, KV
582, “Quel casinetto è mio… Là ci darem la mano” (from
Don Giovanni, KV 527), Rossini: Overture to La Cenerentola ,
Donizetti: “Una furtiva lagrima” (from L’elisir
), Rossini: “Nacqui all’affano, non più
mesta” (from La Cenerentola), Donizetti: “Una parola, o
Adina…Chiedi all’aura lusinghiera” (from L’elisir
, Bellini: Oboe concerto in E flat major, “Torna,
vezzosa Fillide”, Rossini: Overture to La scala di seta,
“Assisa al piè d’un salice” (from Otello), “Deh
calma, o ciel, nel sonno” (from Otello), “Eccomi giunto
inosservato” (from ‘Otello’), “Non arrestare il
colpo” (from Otello), “Notte per me funesta” (from
‘Otello’), “La Danza”, Lehár: “Lippen
schweigen” (arr. P. van Utrecht), Verdi: “Libiamo, ne’lieti
calici” (Brindisi) (from La Traviata)

Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. Monday, 14thDecember, 2015

image_description=Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón
product_title=Kindred Spirits: Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón at the Concertgebouw
product_by=A review by Jenny Camilleri
product_id=Above: Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón