Sacrificium - La Scuola dei Castrati
Cecilia Bartoli; Il Giardino Armonico; Giovanni Antonini
Decca 478 1521
Castration is the final obstacle to truly authentic vocal performance of repertoire written for unwilling mutants. The ranks of early music zealots have, however, produced no volunteers willing to make the necessary sacrifice to reproduce the legendary qualities of the Castrato voice. Until then, the Castrato repertoire remains an unknown frontier explored only occasionally by adventurous counter tenors and female voices.
“Sacrificium” is a 2 disc collection of period arias written exclusively for Castrati. Decca has produced a miniature tome with fine historical notes and photographs documenting the age of the Castrato. The choice of Neapolitan and Venetian composers reflects the fact that the mutilation of young boys for the sake of music was principally an Italian phenomenon, albeit one that northern European courts eagerly imported.
Cecilia Bartoli’s hallmark vibrato and intense emotional style make these recordings (11 of them world premieres) truly impressive. She sustains long melismatic passages effortlessly and negotiates leaps from head to chest voice in rapid succession. And while her display of vocal technique is confident, even brazen at times, some of the finest moments in these 2 discs come in the tender passages of slow descending sequences where she draws out the beauty or anguish of the text in a way that is both simple and intense.
You’ll find familiar composers like Handel, Caldara, Porpora, Broschi and Giacomelli along with the lesser known names of Graun, Araia and Vinci. They all, however, share a gift for crafting both dynamic vocal lines and exquisite melodies that leave a listener wondering how the castrati must actually have sounded and understanding why they were worshipped.