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The Mozart Album
The Mozart Album
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars (-) Most atypical Mozart, played with high musical elan and utter novelty., November 20, 2014
This review is from: The Mozart Album (Audio CD)
Not for the ‘period’ or diehard music scholars, Chinese pianist Lang Lang’s latest
Mozart Album has enough in it to send traditionalists’ heads spinning.
In disc No. 1, he partners the veteran yet non-conforming Nicolaus Harnoncourt, a rare partnership indeed, even in Mozart. The two concerti chosen are Lang Lang’s early pets – No. 24, a work he played for over a decade in concerts, and No. 17, almost as ‘long serving’ as No. 24 in his repertoire.
These pieces are not what ‘serious’ listeners would opt for, admittedly, for both, especially the c minor No. 24, are rendered in untraditional manner. On the acoustics side, the recording leaves some room for desire (which is strange, since these are studio recordings). The Vienna Philharmonic is not recorded in the same wavelength as the piano, and the solo and tutti passages come up often disparaging each other, which is a great shame. The No. 17 Concerto on the whole is more ear catching and stylistically superb, with Lang Lang catching hold fully the composition’s elan and the VPO responding ever so gracefully.
Disc No. 2, on which the listeners must concentrate, is mostly taken from live performances. Three sonatas were recorded at the Royal Albert Hall. Lang Lang has recorded one other Mozart sonatas early on in his pianistic career, and has performed the B flat sonata a number of years ago. The three chosen ones for his recital that’s being recorded here are seldom top choices for recitals or recordings, apart from the a minor sonata.
Lang Lang plays the G and E flat major sonatas in a musically alert and highly enlivened manner. Even the slow beginning of the E flat major sonata got a nuanced reading, with full elan in the next two swifter movements that contrast well with each other. The G major sonata is a melodious piece that blooms well in the hands of Lang Lang. Even the slow movement does not drag as did the second movement of the No. 24 Concerto. Lang Lang is able to arch the phrases beautifully and build up superb musical inflections. His treatment of the thematic materials in the faster movement is both pert and tart.
His reading of the a minor sonata is much more controversial. Here, at least, Lang Lang has returned with a highly novel account of this famous piece. His treatment of the syncopation in the first subject of the famous opening movement may sound a bit weird, but on repeated listenings his treatment strangely grows on listeners. His treatment of the harmonics of the development section of the first movement dwells deep into the inner pathos of the movement, if the pedaling seems a bit overdone at some places. His spacing out of the musical ideas to mark out the thematic and harmonic contrasts are however marvelously done. The slow movement is a romanticized account almost ahead into the late classicism of Schubert, let alone Beethoven. Similarly the third movement cuts short on the emotional depth by significantly discounting the rhythmic figure of the bass.
As encores, Lang Lang played two marches – the C major and the famous ‘Alla Turca’. The latter is purely a showpiece for pyrotechnical dexterity. The C major is on the other hand executed with a trival too much ‘grace’. Yet both are winning enough to entice listeners with their pristine and varied tone colours and smart executions. The F major pieces have a childlike simplicity that is rendered very pleasingly, and it is a shame that Lang Lang did not acquire the 12 variations on the theme "Ah, vous dirai-je maman".
Overall, disc 2 is the major catch, with some awesome interpretations of Mozart’s sonatas on the offer.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 20, 2014 6:06 PM PST

Prima Donna
Prima Donna
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Today's true prima donna., October 29, 2014
This review is from: Prima Donna (Audio CD)
Canadian Karina Gauvin, much revered in recordings and concerts, is a tip top singer owning the most enviable soprano voices singing in the 21st century.
In this substantial and artistically outstanding album, she sings Handel, Vinci and Vivaldi, but the principal excerpts are from Handel's operas. The 'thread' linking these arias are that they were almost entirely composed for the outstanding soprano Anna Maria Strada, quoted by historians to be soprano 'with considerably more capabilities than' even Faustina Bordoni, the wife of composer J. A. Hasse.
Judging from the arias in this album,it is easy to understand why Strada was considered more 'capable' than Bordoni - the arias are much more dramatic, and demands more expressivity than Bordoni's more florid but less colorful repertoire. Notably, the role of Alcina, the role of Angelina (Orlando) and Atalanta all call for a full lyrical soprano voice capable of negotiation complex coloratura.
Gauvin's voice is primarily leggiero coloratura, yet she commands a very rich and rounded middle voice topped by a pure and gleaming top. The low notes are admittedly less powerful, but her musicianship makes up more than amply this relatively minor deficit.
This is an ideal voice for Handel. Indeed, compared with the Handel excerpts, Vinci and Vivaldi's lone selections are comparatively less emotive and demand more pyrotechnical than expressive prowess.
Gauvin in this repertoire simply reigns supreme.
An exemplary album, unreservedly recommended.

Handel: Rinaldo
Handel: Rinaldo
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not surpassed? Not so on recording., August 24, 2014
This review is from: Handel: Rinaldo (Audio CD)
I have owned and listened to this set of Rene Jacobs' 2002 'Rinaldo' for a decade.
I never gave it a review, for am quite SURE that some how, there will be a version to surpass this one. Why? The answer lies in the titular hero.
I am a great fan of Vivica Genaux, but I have never warmed to her trouser roles. The reason is that this is a VERY FEMININE singer, owning a luscious mezzo-soprano voice of great warmth and feminity. Here she is overtly miscast as the Crusade hero Rinaldo.
Her undertones as well as the core of her voice is not one single jot masculine.
Others in the cast are well chosen, but I must report that they have all been surpassed in their respective roles by the 2011 Lausanne production of Rinaldo:
Rinaldo : Max Emanuel Cencic
Armida : Bénédicte Tauran
Almirena : Lenneke Ruiten
Argante : Riccardo Novaro
Eustazio : Yuri Minenko
Goffredo : Xavier Sabata
Mago cristiano : Maarten Engeltjes
Sirena : Carole Meyer
Sirena/Donna : Nathalie Constantin

Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne / Diego Fasolis
Those who have watched the DVD of Leonardo Vinci's 'Artaserse' will immediately catch WHAT was in store for this Lausanne live performance. I have listened to its recording and report that -
1. Cencic is the best Rinaldo EVER,
2, Sabata beats Lawrence Zazzo on EACH and EVERY point as Goffredo,
3, Uriy Minenko is the BEST ever Eustazio, even with one arioso cut,
4. Novaro beats Rutherford as Argante,
5. The two sopranos are AS GOOD as the two here, if not better.
And what's the most important thing, Diego Fasolis managed to out-conduct Jacobs in this score!
The rhythms are crisp and the tonal balance of the orchestra jaw-droppingly outstanding. His dramatic pace is right on, and even just by listening to his music on recording, I can FULLY envisage what was happening ON STAGE. It is simply so vivid, so close to the script, so well-depicted that what is needed in a classical operatic recording is ALL present. And Jacobs pales in comparison to Fasolis for want of the 'live' feeling, with more relaxed treatment to the dramatic movements, yet not a bit more refined in the musical details.
Xavier Sabata's opening aria is jaw-droppingly beautiful with his dark-hued alto countertenor, while Minenko's Eustazio sings in a plangent and creamy tone with registers homogeneously integrated, some thing that the very young Dumaux did not have then in this recording for Jacobs. Cencic's high mezzo-soprano portrayal of Rinaldo is well-nigh perfection itself, especially heard in a live setting with natural theatrical ambience. The voice simply shone forth like lazer, with fully integrated registral changes with interpolations of atmospheric high notes.
Yes, this very fine recording of Jacobs HAVE BEEN SURPASSED, though not commercially available.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 17, 2014 8:05 PM PDT

Everything You Want to Know About Chinese Cooking
Everything You Want to Know About Chinese Cooking
by Pearl Kong Chen
Edition: Hardcover
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ONLY AUTHENTIC Cantonese receipes., August 5, 2014
Mdm. Pearl Chen Kong passed away recently in Hong Kong aged 88.
Madam Kong's recipes on Cantonese cooking is the ONLY authentically Cantonese 'bible' by now. These years the influx of 'fusion' cooking has eroded the truly cosmopolitan 'Canton' style of eating and cooking, and Pearl's recipes become a 'lost art'.
I grew up in Canton (pre-World War II and Communist China). My family background is akin to Pearl's - the quasi-aristocratic southern Chinese family planting their roots in Guangzhou (Canton).
I particularly like the way Pearl recommends the turnip cake's flour be mixed with fish soup instead of water soaked with Japanese dried scallops as people do it these days in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. The latter has a decided MSG flavour that mars the end-product irreversibly.
These are truly authentic Cantonese (which represents, in effect, the finest Chinese cooking together with the Sichuan cooking) recipes and methodology.
Grab this while it lasts.

Vivaldi - Arsilda
Vivaldi - Arsilda
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars (-) High value, though imperfect., July 31, 2014
This review is from: Vivaldi - Arsilda (Audio CD)
Arsilda was Vivaldi's third opera, written to a libretto by the prolific writer Domenico Lalli. Lalli didn't want his name associated with the libretto as he believed Vivaldi had destroyed it by his music. On the other hand it is equally clear that when the opera was first performed it wasn't the kind of work Vivaldi had in mind. The inquisitors which the Council of Ten had appointed to exert political and religious censorship over opera libretti had refused to give their permission for a performance of the original version. Vivaldi had accordingly to change it considerably. In this recording an attempt has been made to reconstruct the opera as it was originally conceived by Vivaldi. Antonio Maria Sardelli, in his programme notes, states that the original conception is considerably bolder and more interesting than the later version which was performed in the Sant'Angelo theatre in 1716.
The tribulations around the first performance didn't prevent the opera from becoming popular. It seems to have been performed in Germany and in Prague. Several manuscripts have been found all over Europe with arias from this opera, sometimes in arrangements, which were used in performances of other operas. And it looks as if Vivaldi was pleased with his work as well, as he often ‘recycled’ material from it in other vocal and instrumental works.
The story is as complicated as most libretti from the 17th and 18th century, with a lot of disguise and gender-bending. Arsilda is the queen of Pontus and is engaged to Tamese, prince of Cilicia. He is thought to be dead, and as the crown of Cilicia is reserved to a male, his place is taken by his twin sister Lisea, pretending to be her brother. That causes problems when Arsilda wants to marry. Another complication is that Lisea has been promised to Barzane, king of Lydia, who is in love with Arsilda. He is looking for revenge as Tamese had taken away Arsilda, and invades the country. But he is captured thanks to Tamese, disguised as a gardener. In the second act Lisea, disguised as Tamese, confronts Barzane with his unfaithfulness towards her. He sees the error of his ways and decides to beg Lisea for forgiveness. In the meantime Tamese reveals to Arsilda that her 'fiancé' is his sister Lisea. Cisardo, the twin's uncle, has overheard his confession and decides to take action. In the third act the real identity of all characters involved is revealed. The opera ends with Tamese and Arsilda becoming king and queen of Cilicia, and Barzane returning as king to Lydia, with Lisea as his queen. The storyline of baroque operas are often rather ridiculous - opera arias can be very moving, especially as Handel's operas demonstrate. That said, in Vivaldi's operas the level of emotional involvement is less than in Handel, and Vivaldi's arias generally impress more in their instrumental accompaniment than the vocal parts. Such ‘vocal concerto’ style arias abound in this opera, as in the Act Ii arioso of Arsilda “Sù svegliatevi augelletti”, which is a concerto for voice and solo violin.
Vivaldi was a composer with theatrical instinct, and his operas and instrumental music are dramatic in nature. There are also similarities in the way instruments are used to create an atmosphere. A good example is the closing aria of the first act, 'Io son quel Gelsomino' (I am like that jasmine flower) which is very reminiscent of, for instance, the 'Four Seasons'. Soprano Elena Cecchi Fedi gives a beautiful rendition with a limpid and wine dark soprano. In fact, there are quite a number of arias in which images from nature are used, like the butterfly, the nightingale and the turtledove, as in the Act II aria “Un certo non sò che”. Here Vivaldi is at his most inspired.
There is plenty to enjoy here, and lovers of Vivaldi's music will find much which sounds familiar. Antonio Maria Sardelli has brought together a fine cast, which shows a good understanding of Vivaldi's music and the style of the baroque era. As far as the singers are concerned, almost all have pleasant voices, except the tenor Joseph Cornwell whose slight tremolo becomes pretty annoying. He certainly impresses in the way he masters his virtuosic arias, which contain a lot of coloraturas. But as there are clear accents in the instrumental parts, there are none in his interpretation of the vocal line and this makes his arias little more than a flood of notes.
However, the cast is less involved emotionally in the recitatives. Some believe that the recitatives in baroque operas are very boring, and this recording adds fresh fuel to that prejudice. The tempi are generally too slow, and the interaction between the protagonists is often very static. One hears very little anger, fear, agitation in the recitatives.
The best performance in this recording comes from mezzo-soprano Lucia Sciannimanico, who gives a very sensitive interpretation of the role of Lisea with a rich and expressive timbre. Sergio Foresti is totally convincing as Cisardo. The roles of Mirinda and Nicandro are also well realised. In the title role, Simonetta Cavalli's performances are a little uneven, whereas soprano Nicky Kennedy is disappointingly bland as Barzane.
The orchestra under Sardelli is brilliant, always playing at a very high level, bold and vivid. But sometimes misses the dramatic point, as for instance, the strong accents in Arsilda's aria 'Io sento in questo seno' (act I) seem at odds: "I hear my distressed heart, weep and sigh in my breast that is only filled with sorrows". There is a lack of real sensitivity to the lyrics here from the orchestra.
One can only thank Sardelli for recording this reconstruction of the original version of this opera. The singing and playing is generally good, but that can't make up for the lack of drama and emotion.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 31, 2014 2:48 AM PDT

Monteverdi: L'incoronazione di Poppea
Monteverdi: L'incoronazione di Poppea
DVD ~ Sonya Yoncheva
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly effective production, immaculately performed., July 9, 2014
French producer Jean-François Sivadier leagued up with Emmanuelle Haïm and the Concert d'Astrée in Lille in Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea. Among the numerous (yes, numerous) modern production of Monteverdi's popular opera, this 2012 one stands towering over other even more eminent ones (even beating Haïm's in Glyndebourne earlier in 2009).
To begin with, the production is imaginative and very beautiful, with costumes in a mixture of contemporary and historical attire. Thunder boards and jungle drums between the acts herald a rather gruesome, instead of romantic, tale.
Musically, Haïm opted for a full orchestral texture with some twenty players in the raised pit. Vocally, the cast was highly effective, even with some rather unusual stylistic quibbles obviously opted for by the conductor herself. This was most notable in two of the set numbers. The nurse Arnalta's lullaby and Ottavia's farewell to Rome both got unconventional and questionable treatments, but they worked dramatically. The overall vocal cast is about the best ever assembled for this popular opera: dominated by the most voluptuous ever Poppea of Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva, whose effortless soprano glowed in a most promising manner, opposite the dramatically hysterical Nerone of Croatian countertenor Max-Emanuel Cencic, who conquers the role's wide vocal range without transposition. Cencic's vocal acting achieves a highly dramatic effect in employing rough outbursts in the high register that are always exciting and in character, while the middle of his voice is utterly mellifluous, as in the various scenes with Poppea from Act 1 to the extremely beautiful final duet. The countertenor singing of Tim Mead as the vacillating Ottone works well, too, despite a rather late warming up. Drusilla is finely sung by gifted young soprano Amel Brahim-Djelloul. Paul Whelan is an authoritative and somber Seneca. The entire vocal cast is without a single weak link.
So, all in all, a musically outstanding performance, but equally big credit goes to the production and direction. There are numerous instances where the imaginative power of Sivadier effectively whets the historical interests of his audience, such as the monologue in the Final Act relating the gruesome death of the Empress Ottavia, the eventual falling apart and murder of Poppea by Nerone, and how Ottone finally usurped the throne. The transformation of Seneca, who opposes Poppea's coronation, into a plaster statue after his death is theatrically thrilling.
Greatest credit, however, goes to the two lead singers Sonya Yoncheva and Max Emanuel Cencic. Yoncheva virtually beats each and every portrayal of Poppea before her, vocally and dramatically. Her voice is luscious (much more so than Daniella de Niese), and her singing is exemplary, with a well-trained baroque style (by William Christie, no less). Visually, her Elizabeth Taylor-like voluptuousness convinces each and every audience that this is an extreme femme fatale. She is equally partnered by Max Cencic, the most neurotic and narcissistic Nerone ever portrayed on stage. Apart from great vocal acting enabled by a prodigiously gifted vocal talent, Cencic's ultra-keen dramatic instincts infuse the evil character of Nerone with utter believability.
The sets and scenery are another great attribute of this highly dramatic production, with a visual scheme built on color palates that achieves an impact of highly artistic and period adornment.
Indisputably the best "L'Incoronazione di Poppea".
Unreservedly recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 31, 2014 7:01 PM PDT

DVD ~ Philippe Jaroussky
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You will die with regret if you miss this one!, June 12, 2014
This review is from: Artaserse (DVD)
21st century is rightly described as the 'B' era for operas (as opposed to the 'V' era of the last century).
'B' certainly refers to baroque and bel canto ('V' for verismo and Verdi).
In 2012 here, we have this out and out the most accomplished baroque opera production ever.
Other reviewers have pointed the individual singers' terrific contributions. Let me now describe some of the high points. Of course, the 'high points' are available on the web, but you'd have to watch them in context to get a complete taste.
There are quite a good number of vocal high points - foremost, the absolutely incredible Franco Fagioli, owning a technique not one jot less than Cecilia Bartoli, but with a male-sounding and full-throttled dramatic CT timber. This is both a gift and an acquired art. Full credit to Franco for his several great arias and duets, especially the last number in DVD 1, in which he really sung (and acted) his heart out the torments of Arbace. A completely stylish rendition, too, fully in sync with the Rococo style of the opera's production.
Also vocally and dramatically outstanding is Philippe Jaroussky as Artaserse himself, drawing on one of the CT star's finest operatic performances (comparatively, his earlier Orlando Furioso and L'incoronazione di Poppea are less eminent, for sure). Vocally in resplendent state, Jaroussky portrayed a regal yet tormented title role, as memorable as the Arbace of Fagioli.
No less stunning are the other counter-tenors' performances, though. This production has two 'skirt roles' in Semira (Valer Barna-Sabadus, sopranist) and Mandane (Max Cencic, mezzo-sopranist). These two men gave jaw-dropping performances as 'women'. While you may not feel at all convinced in video close-ups (the make-ups are really heavy for dramatic effect), but judged as a stage performance, both Valer and Max gave utterly incredible performances in their respective lady-roles. Max skips and jumps on unbelievably nimble feet to the music of Mandane, greatly enhancing the dramatic effect of the arias/duets/scenes. Valer is no less effective, for although taller and slender, he manages to glide through the scenes where his Semira is being tortured. In the hit scene in which Yuriy Minenko's Megabise sings an aria to molest Semira, it is a typical setting of a black Turkish falcon out to rape a white dove. Minenko's singing and acting are both impeccably effective, but the scene's dramatic effect is greatly improved with Barna-Sabadus acting.
Giving in bygone years (may be just 5 years ago), Minenko would have been heralded as the new Counter-tenor big found with a strikingly rich timber and tremendous stage presence (compare Bejun Mehta, with whom Minenko has no small similarities by way of strengths).
As it is, this compilation in its sheer gathering of vocal and operatic talents makes this production the best operatic DVD of the past decade.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 24, 2014 7:19 PM PDT

Bach Cantatas
Bach Cantatas
Offered by SONY Music Entertainment Downloads LLC.
Price: $11.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christine's best J.S. Bach album to-date., March 19, 2014
This review is from: Bach Cantatas (MP3 Music)
Comprising three highly popular religious cantatas, Christine Schafer's collaboration with the Berlin Baroque Soloists in this album is about her best output of Bach's works.
About a decade ago, her baroque (Bach included) singing has been criticised for her 'intrusive vibrato', 'iffy pitch' and 'muddled phrasing'.
Listening to this 2012 album, while there is still an 'operatic' vibrato, such is tamed and well within acceptable bounds of music of this genre.
I must point out that Schafer is one of the foremost lyrical sopranos singing today from the artistic perspective. Her voice is silvery and seamless, her articulation clear and tart, and in this album, there is hardly any trace of pitch problem that may be found in some leading operatic sopranos. Her vocal attributes are in fact indeal for bringing forth the musical nuances in Bach's cantatas.
The works, about sadness and loss, are presented with an unearthly serenity that is inherent in the music that never subtracts from the more earthly pathos in the lyrics. This alone smacks of a high artistic order in the interpretor.
Indeed, this album can easily withstand the fierce competiton in recordings of these well-known and widely recorded works.

Faust [Blu-ray]
Faust [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Jonas Kaufmann
Price: $29.29
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars (-)Not the best 'Faust' production., February 24, 2014
This review is from: Faust [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
This is from the MET's HD a couple of years back, with Jonas Kaufmann in the title role, Marina Poplavskaya as Margeurite and Rene Pape as Mephistopheles. The setting is modern, with Dr. Faustus a scientist who is tired of his 'trade' and wishes for an early and easy death, while the Devil comes and signs him up for a new life.
Kaufmann's French is great, but he does not have much of a French 'timber', and this Faust is not as lyrical as others, like Alagna, would have it. To match him, Pape as Mephistopheles is also more stentorian than suavely sly.
As Margeurite's brother Valentin, baritone Russell Braun does not make things overtly memorable, either, if his singing is generally fine.
The great saving aspect of this performance surprisingly comes from Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya, who identifies herself totally with the role both vocally and dramatically.
Her King Thule ballad, the Jewel Song, her duets with Faust and the last scene are all delivered with great aplomb, and she really looks the part with a stunningly pure looking stage presence.
This production isn't appealing, with a French grand opera being cut to the bare bones, but it could have been much worse. The conducting is fine, and generally speaking on the musical side this is a sterling piece, though there are significant cuts and the Walpurgis Scene is non-existent.
Given that there are not too many outstanding Faust videos, this one is still worth seeing.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2014 11:59 PM PDT

Porpora & Farinelli - His Masters Voice
Porpora & Farinelli - His Masters Voice
Price: $16.00
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All's well but for the Bartoli collaboration., February 16, 2014
As of late, Phillippe Jaroussky teams up with star mezzo-soprano Bartoli in a number of projects - the Stefani as well as this Farinelli.
The contents of this album are all chosen from Farninell's teacher Nicolai Porpora's works, and it is claimed here that seven of such are world premiere recordings.
The package comes in a detailed and pictoral booklet, so it is great value for money on the package alone, with Jaroussky dorned in tricolor attire.
Having said that, I would not give this product's singing 5 stars.
Jaroussky has been very industrious in brushing up his vocal technique for the demands of this album, and he generally achieved over 90 percent, which is no small feat in such daunting repertoire.
The caveat, however, is to be found in the duets with Bartoli.
I don't know why, but Cecilia has in recent years become very difficult to partner - her collaboration with Juan Diego Florez ended in fiasco. Back one and a half decade, she still partnered Jonas Kaufmann well in Paisiello's 'Nina'. Now the story is quite another.
Her partnership with Jaroussky fared little better than that with Florez.
The timbers do not match. Listening to two, instead of one, of voices with 'acquired technique' proves too much for listeners in general, if not all.
The same problems do not surface when Jaroussky partnered that other great mezzo counter-tenor Max Emanuel Cencic.

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