"Sacrificium" - The Sacrifice of Hundreds of Thousands of Boys in the Name of Music.
Music of Porpora, Caldara, Araia, Graun, Leo, Vinci, Broschi, Handel, and Giacomelli
Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini, cond.
DECCA 478 1521 (2 disks) TT: 77:55 & 21:25

ROSSINI: Arias from Armida, La donna del lago, Maometto II, Elisabetta, regina d'Inghiulterra, Semiramide, and Otello
Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Chorus and Orchestra of St. Cecilia Academy of Rome/Edoardo Müller, cond.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6945790 TT: 72:05

Arias from La Rondine, La bohème, Gianni Schicchi, Mireille, Manon, Faust, Thaïs, and La traviata
Inva Mula, soprano; Zagreb Philharmonic Orch/Ivo Lipanoviç, cond.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 694538 TT: 76:56

"Golden Operetta of Vienna" - music of Lehár, Zeller, Millöcker, Johann Strauss and Kálman
Fritz Wunderlich, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Hilde Gueden, Anneliese Rothenberger, Nicolai Gedda, Jussi Björling, Rita Streigh, Richard Tauber and others
ALTO CD ALC 1049 (B) TT: 67:50

RICHARD TAUBER "The Gentleman Tenor" - Opera and Operetta Arias/Songs
Richard Tauber, tenor; various orch/cond.
EMI CLASSICS ICON 698542 (B) (5 disks) TT: 76:09 / 77:13 / 77:40 / 76:30 / 76:43

Cecilia Bartoli's latest recording is "a celebration of the age of the castrato," a deluxe 2-disk profusely illustrated set of music most of which has never before been recorded. Bartoli apparently did much research on music of the period and how it was performed. The album cover is rather odd and shows the mezzo does indeed have a great sense of humor—on the cover, her head is superimposed over a nude male body. There was great demand in Rome for castrato performers.The album appropriately refers to, "The sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of boys in the name of music." Nicola Portpora (1686-1768) had a school for castratos, with students often taken from orphanages. After castration, the most talented of the boys were given voice training and some became very famous. Portpora also was a composer and his music is featured on this new CD. All of the music is incredibly demanding for the singer, and, needless to say, Bartoli tosses it off with the greatest of ease. Her singing, as usual, is spectacular. and her many fans will delight in these brilliant performances. Luxurious packaging includes profuse program notes in four languages and many photos. This is a terrific set.

Rossini had great admiration for Spanish singer Isabella Colbran, and for a decade wrote operas for her. His close association with her led to marriage in 1822. As she was the leading diva of the day, with an extraordinary vocal range, Rossini's music for her reflects that. American mezzo Joyce DiDonato, a specialist in Rossini, is heard on this superb CD in some of Rossini's more serious music, with plenty of vocal fireworks, all performed with the greatest of ease. This is a stunning Rossini collection, beautifully recorded. Don't miss it.

Of considerably lesser interest is Inva Mula's first recital disk. The Albanian soprano has won several prestigious prizes including the first Plácido Domingo International Vocal Competition, and already has two videos reviewed on this site: La Bohème (REVIEW) and Rigoletto (REVIEW). Mula's career is flourishing in a variety of roles, particularly in French opera. Mula is not a youngster; she was born in 1963. Now in her mid-forties, she should be in peak vocal condition, not evident on this recording. Mula has a distressing unevenness of production in her middle and low ranges, and her approach to high notes is secure but cautious. She is most effective in arias from Mireille, Manon, Thaïs and Faust. A disappointing disk.

The Golden Operetta of Vienna CD is a very inexpensive way to get some truly remarkable performances of the genre. We have excerpts from famous early EMI mono recordings featuring Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Emmy Loose, Nicolai Gedda and Erich Kunz, plus contributions by tenors Jussi Bjoerling, Fritz Wunderlich , Richard Tauber and Rudolf Schock—and many others—on this packed CD (67:50). Transfers are excellent, program notes are profuse along with brief bios of all of the artists, but don't expect texts.

Richard Tauber (1892-1948) was one of the most famous tenors of his time, known particularly for his Mozart, lieder and operetta. He also was a composer, and his song My Heart And I, from one of his English operettas, Old Chelsea, was one of his most popular recordings. It is included in the Golden Operetta CD mentioned above, and you also can find it in EMI's Icon budget-priced reissue, 5 generously-filled CDs of opera, operetta and songs. The opera arias are all sung in German, and one should not expect the vocal fireworks of Pavarotti or Corelli—Tauber's high range was not his forte. Treasures abound here including "Marietta's Lied" from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt sung with Lotte Lehmann, a recording made in Berlin in 1924 with George Szell conducting. Total information is provided on performers, recording dates,and sites. The transfers are a bit on the dull side, but adequate—and the price is right.

R.E.B. (November 2009)