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Thriving with the works of outlaws

Cecilia Bartoli's lauded virtuosity is on display in oratorios that were written in Rome when opera was forbidden.

October 12, 2005|Daniel Cariaga | Special to The Times

Happy crowds, standing ovations, spontaneous cheering, a pervading atmosphere of festivity -- all these materialized again Monday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion when star singer Cecilia Bartoli returned for her first local appearance since February 2004.

This time she brought the crack Baroque ensemble, the Orchestra la Scintilla of Zurich Opera, to assist her in a program drawn from her latest album, "Opera Proibita." This is a collection of excerpts from oratorios written in Rome in the early 18th century, at a time when opera was outlawed. Staging was forbidden, yet the music and musicians thrived, as witness all these charming ditties by Alessandro Scarlatti, Caldara and Handel. These morsels show off Bartoli's much-lauded virtuosity most handsomely, and she was in good form Monday and exerted her charm and personal magnetism generously.

In a varied program of 13 arias, the Roman mezzo-soprano, wearing an eye-catching neon-green gown, again displayed her vocal skills and bag of tricks: a broad range of dynamics within a medium range of colors; technical agility and rapid articulation; the ability to project character and mood instantly. The audience cheered at the most overt displays of speed; it hollered with equal enthusiasm over the several touching and quiet moments, as at Scarlatti's "Caldo sangue," and Handel's "Lascia la spina."

What brought the crowd to its feet spontaneously, of course, were the two arias that closed the first and last half of the program, "Come nembo che fugge col vento" from Handel's "Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno," and the same composer's "Disserratevi, o porte d'Averno," from "Oratorio per la Resurrezione."

The conductorless Baroque ensemble offered handsome accompaniments to all this fascinating music. By itself, and led by concertmaster Ada Pesch, it played overtures by Caldara and Handel with enthusiasm and finesse.

After intermission, it essayed Corelli's Concerto Grosso, Opus 6, No. 12. The brilliant oboe soloist in the evening's penultimate aria with Bartoli was Jasu Moisio; Bartoli shared her bows with him, and the audience response was vociferous.

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