Cecilia Bartoli-A Portrait (1992) (NTSC)

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Released 5-May-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Booklet
Trailer-DVD Showreel (17:30)
Trailer-Cecilia Bartoli On Decca DVD (2:30)
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1992
Running Time 106:37
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By David Thomas
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Cecilia Bartoli
Gyorgy Fischer
Case Flexbox
RPI $36.95 Music Various

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Italian Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Italian dts 5.1 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Back in the mid-1980's there came to the attention of the opera world a young mezzo-soprano who had a voice of a quality the likes of which had not been heard in a while. Now, the music business being what it is nowadays, she was of course promptly categorised as the next best thing to hit opera and was bound to be chased by every music company under the sun. It was nothing that we have not seen many times over in the last twenty years, as just about any female opera singer has been banded around as the next big thing. The fact that they could not really sing, and certainly could not hold a candle to the great opera singers of the near and not-so-near past had little bearing on their promotion. The result was a whole succession of mediocre sopranos and mezzo-sopranos being promoted like there was no tomorrow. They were wheeled into recording studios around the world to trot out mediocre performances of the core opera repertoire for issue onto the market - where admittedly some of them sold in huge numbers, mainly to cloth-eared idiots who would not know a good opera singer if they fell over one. The hype was everything and the substance bugger all. If they happened to be attractive to boot, even better!

    Some of those hyped singers are still around - not because they are really any good but simply because the music companies have invested enough money in them to sustain the name in the forefront of the industry and thus ensure some sort of "brand" recognition. In many cases, the initial plethora of recordings have left the singers with ruined voices - as a result of over singing and singing stuff that they simply were not suited to. Some still churn out recordings of key repertoire that usually sells just enough to make a dollar but rarely have any impact on the art of opera. Serviceable recordings and nothing more that still fail to compare with the recordings from the great singers of the past.

    So what about our young mezzo-soprano? Well, she was a little different, not the least because she actually has a voice that can compare with the great mezzos of the past. Whilst I am by no means a religious man, there are some things on earth that could just about convince me of the existence of some higher being with a purpose that is not for us mere mortals to understand. The voice of Cecilia Bartoli is one of those things. Over the past twenty years there have been very few voices that have captured the attention not because of the hype but simply because of the pure beauty of the voice. Indeed, if pushed to name the greatest female opera singers, all but one would come from a much earlier generation - and some barely recognised either, such as the great Brazilian soprano Bidu Sayao. That one sole exception is Cecilia Bartoli. She was blessed with a fine voice but also blessed with enough common sense not to follow the herd and churn out recording after recording.

    The young Cecilia Bartoli ensured that she kept away from repertoire that she was not suited to and certainly does not record anywhere near as often as the other "big names" of the same generation. The result is that when she does record, it is usually something genuinely worthwhile - and certainly well worth listening to. Over the past two decades she has become one of the greatest Rossini singers to ever grace the opera and at the same time has indulged in material that has rarely been heard before. But the other main difference with most of her contemporaries is that she sings for a simple enough reason - it is something she enjoys enormously. That is one inescapable fact that permeates just about everything she does - and in the end is what will ensure that she is always going to be better than any of her contemporaries. Most of them have long forgotten about anything but the money...

    Mind you it does not mean to say that she has not been hyped - but at least she has the vocal assets to overcome the hype and prove that she has something worthwhile to say in the music. Of course, it also does not hurt that she is also an attractive woman. Both the hype and the pure attraction are seen in abundance, along with that superb voice being heard, in the two programmes that make up this DVD. I suppose that we should be grateful that Decca, the company for whom she signed and records, had the foresight to realise that the hype aspect would be well assisted by a record of her early career. As a result, we have these two distinct programmes, both recorded in 1991, that chronicle the emergence of Cecilia Bartoli as a genuine opera star.

    Oh, there is one other thing for which Cecilia Bartoli is known - her eyes. She has the most amazingly beautiful, beguiling eyes, but also the most amazingly expressive eyes. It is often said that she sings with her eyes. You will see what people mean by that during the course of these two programmes. You don't have to understand what she is singing - her eyes communicate just as much emotion as her voice. The joy, the sadness, the fun - you can see it all through her eyes.

    A Portrait comprises mainly interview material from people associated with the lady, as well as Cecilia Bartoli herself. There is also some footage of a recording session at the famed La Fenice in Venice, as well as some excerpts from the concert at the Savoy Hotel. At the time of the recording of the programme in April 1991, she was twenty four years old and what comes through in the programme is that this is a very mature person who understands plenty about music and singing, but also knows how to have fun and enjoy life. With a lot of contribution from her mother - a lyric soprano herself - we come to understand an awful lot about Cecilia Bartoli as a person as well as a singer. The clincher for me though is her passion for food - which she describes as almost sexual! God, I love this woman! If nothing else, she certainly knocks down the walls of stuffiness that tend to surround the art of opera. The result is an at times intimate date with one of the greatest opera singers not only of her generation, but of all time. This is an interesting, fun look into the life of Cecilia Bartoli that is a must for anyone with an interest in opera.

    A Portrait then sort-of segues into In Concert At The Savoy Hotel. This was recorded a few months later in the summer of 1991 and presents Cecilia Bartoli singing an interesting mix of music from Pergolesi, Vivaldi, Mozart and Rossini, accompanied by Gyorgy Fischer. Tremendously relaxed, having a thoroughly good time, what we have here is Cecilia Bartoli proving exactly why she is one of the finest opera singers of all time. This is just beautiful stuff. The regret is that I don't think that it is the complete concert (some excerpts included in A Portrait for instance are not included here) and that it is simply way too short. This is the sort of gorgeous stuff that we have come to expect in all of her recordings. As a companion to the documentary, this is extremely apt and thoroughly enjoyable.

    When this title was announced, I stuck my hands up for the allocation with the warning that I would kill anyone who got between me and the DVD. That it is the disc that brings me (temporarily) out of reviewing retirement is indication enough of how much I have been awaiting its release. I have not been disappointed in the slightest. I have rarely enjoyed a music DVD as much as this and it will be making its way back through my player on a regular basis. From a programme point of view, it is hard to fault the disc. It is thus a pity that Universal Music have not taken some care with the presentation of the programme on DVD...

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Transfer Quality


    Okay - if you cannot handle NTSC formatted DVDs, you can forget this effort. I really pity you but unfortunately this is an NTSC formatted disc and the only way you are going to get a PAL version is to complain bitterly to Universal Pictures Home Video.

    The transfer is presented in its intended aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and it is therefore not 16x9 enhanced.

    Perhaps the overriding impression created by the transfer is that it is serviceable without being really exceptional in any way. It is a little soft in definition at times, which robs the overall presentation of a crispness that it probably could have done with. It is a little bit grainy at times, notably in the darker looking In Concert In The Savoy Hotel. Low level noise does not appear to be a problem at all. A Portrait is much better looking as it has a much better contrast and of course is mainly recorded outside in some gorgeous spring weather - meaning the whole things is bright, clear and easy on the eye. Shadow detail is never an issue. Clarity is quite good. In Concert In The Savoy Hotel is just not as good as it is quite dark and somewhat poorly contrasted. Most of this is likely to be from the venue itself but the programme could certainly have benefited from more natural light. Shadow detail is not exactly terrific, nor is clarity. There is some extraneous flaring and glaring from the lights too that gets a tad annoying at times.

    There is again a distinct difference in the colours between the two programmes. A Portrait is bright, quite vibrant and very nice to look at. Colours are quite well saturated and skin tones are quite natural. There are no problems with oversaturation or colour bleed. In Concert In The Savoy Hotel is very different - quite dark, the colours are only moderately delineated and saturation is perhaps a little too heavy at times. Whilst there is again no problem with oversaturation and colour bleed, it is a little hard on the eyes as there is no real relief to the darkness. Most of that, however, is more than likely source related and therefore not exactly fixable in the mastering process without producing an unnaturally bright look to it. Skin tones are rather unnatural, whether the result of the stage lighting or not I cannot quite determine. There appears to be some problem with posterization in the programme but this might well be a consequence of the unnatural skin tones.

    There is nothing really obvious in the way of MPEG artefacts in the transfer, although A Portrait sometimes has a quite pixelated look to it. Film-to-video artefacts are confined to some modest aliasing such as in the building in A Portrait at 2:25 and the piano in In Concert In The Savoy Hotel at 51:48. Most of the problems with the transfer are film artefacts: aside from the rather obvious dirt marks, some of which are hard to ignore, there is a distinct patina of film dirt especially in A Portrait. In Concert In The Savoy Hotel is also afflicted with wobble, although whether this is inherent or introduced is difficult to say.

    This is a Dual Layered DVD with each of the programmes on a separate layer presumably.

    There are six subtitles on the DVD but these are only applicable to A Portrait. The English efforts are good with few real complaints to be had.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are three soundtracks on the DVD, but that might be a little misleading as to the options available for each programme. A Portrait is available with just the single option, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 effort, whilst In Concert At The Savoy Hotel has two options: an Italian Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 soundtrack and an Italian dts 5.1 soundtrack. Frankly, the lack of consistency in the presentation of the two programmes is rather annoying and strongly suggests a toss it out attitude from Universal Music. To be fair, A Portrait does not need much in the way of sound as it is mainly interview material, but to have different two channel formats on the same DVD is not indicative of a high quality approach to the release.

    Dialogue and vocals come up well in the transfers and they are generally always easy to understand. There did not appear to be any significant issue with audio sync in the transfer.

    There is really nothing much awry with the Dolby Digital audio for A Portrait. It has little to do but convey the dialogue and the singing and does this well enough. It could perhaps have benefited from a bit more brightness in the sound but it is quite open and lacking any sort of muddying - always an issue if you want a good opera recording.

    One of the great joys of having two different soundtracks for In Concert At The Savoy Hotel is that I got to listen to the concert twice in rapid succession! The Linear PCM soundtrack was the first up and it too is a very open sound, completely free of any muddying and generally a very easy listen. It might lack somewhat in the dynamic stakes but we cannot expect miracles from a two channel soundtrack. Not quite as if you were there, but I have no complaints.

    Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the six channel dts soundtrack, which frankly I found quite underwhelming. Given that it is a full bitrate effort, I was expecting probably a lot more in the way of presence than we get here. Sure there is some reasonable surround encoding but I could not escape the impression that the concert was going on all around me as there was vocal information coming from all directions - which of course is not the way it should sound in this sort of venue. At least there was no extraneous bass introduced into the mix so the vocals came through with clarity and body. I cannot help but feel however that this could, and should, have been a whole better with more focused vocals and a more open sound with more ambience.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Not exactly anything more than advertising.


    Quite simple and quite classy looking. A pity that there is not an option to play both programmes though - you have to come back to the menu after A Portrait to select In Concert At The Savoy Hotel.


    A decent enough effort with a couple of essays and the texts for the songs included in the concert. There is also a separate catalogue detailing Universal Music DVD Video and SACD releases - but not their DVD-Audio releases!

Trailer - DVD Showreel (17:30)

    A lengthy advertising trailer detailing quite a number of Universal Music DVD-Video releases. The presentation is quite reasonable, featuring Full Frame video and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Hardly an extra though.

Trailer - Cecilia Bartoli On Decca DVD

    Specifically advertising the two other DVD-Video releases featuring the lady: La Cenerentola (1:27) and Live In Italy (1:03). Just a reminder to Universal Music - we still have to review the latter! The presentation this time seems to be 1.66:1 (not 16x9 enhanced) with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As far as can be ascertained, all releases around the world are similar to this all-region NTSC release.


    Cecilia Bartoli is the only opera singer of the modern generation that I consider in any way comparable to the great singers of the past. Ever since I first heard her on CD I have been a huge fan. Accordingly, I was eagerly awaiting a number of releases on DVD-Video and DVD-Audio, including this one. Whilst it is by no means the best technical DVD you will ever see or hear, the fact is that the content more than overcomes the inadequacies of the presentation. Fans will need no encouragement to indulge and opera fans in general should look to add this to their collections.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Thursday, July 15, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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