Cecilia Bartoli-The Vivaldi Album (DVD-Audio) (1999) (NTSC)

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Released 1-Apr-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Booklet-With Lyrics
Gallery-Photo
Interviews-Cast-Notes
Discography-Catalogue
Credits
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 66:36
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor
Decca
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Cecilia Bartoli
Il Giardino Armonico
Case DVD-Audio Jewel
RPI $34.90 Music Antonio Vivaldi


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian MLP 48/24 2.0
Italian MLP 48/24 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    DVD-Audio? You remember the format that was launched with not a whole lot of fanfare back May, 2001? The format that so far has made all the waves in the marketplace of a rampaging turtle on a go-slow strike? Well, contrary to popular observation, DVD-Audio is not yet completely dead in the water and there are actually a few more supporters in the way of distributors coming into the marketplace. It's just that sometimes you would be hard-pressed to know it.

    One of those emerging supporters is Universal Music and whilst you might not see too many places selling their product, it is actually available. They have kindly let us loose with a couple of the available discs, one of those obviously being Cecilia Bartoli - The Vivaldi Album. When Universal first announced that they would be releasing DVD-Audio discs, one of the titles mentioned was Cecilia Bartoli - The Vivaldi Album. To say I was overjoyed would be to somewhat seriously understate the situation. As previous reviews may well have indicated, I am a huge fan of the lady, who possesses one of the finest voices around and one that bears favourable comparison with the great mezzo-sopranos of the past. Not only does she have a great voice however, but a fine musical sense and in a major early recital in 1991 gave an indication of what might be when she included an Antonio Vivaldi aria amongst a fine collection of works from more familiar names such as Rossini and Mozart.

    Why was the appearance of that Vivaldi aria so important? Well, despite writing something in the region of 90 operas (at least that is my recollection, but I may be wrong), much of this vast body of work had been long forgotten. Whilst this was not dissimilar to much of his work, his vastly more prolific orchestral and chamber music output started to regain its place in music from the 1950s and by the 1990s was very much back to the forefront of the finest classical music around. His operas however were still in general very much an unknown quantity and some had probably not been performed since the 1700s. So when Cecilia Bartoli went wandering through the National University Library in Turin and rediscovered some of these works, a match that was almost made in heaven was born.

    That wander through the archives resulted in a recording session in Vienna in July, 1999 that produced an album unlike anything previously released on CD. Featuring six world premiere recordings, the CD was one of the wows of classical music at the time and became a best seller. I will never forget the first time I heard the album - it was at the now-disappeared Gramophone Records in Perth and it was a revelation and a half. I would hate to think how many copies of the CD were sold that day but everyone's reaction was pretty much the same. Over the ensuing months I listened to the CD frequently and came to appreciate it as one of the greatest CDs I had ever heard in the classical music field. So to return to the album after a fair time - I have not listened to the CD in perhaps two years as I simply have not listened to much music at all in that time - was not just an enormous pleasure, but also quite an ear-opening experience.

    Decca have always been renowned by the quality of their recordings and the CD release of the album well and truly lived up to that reputation. Believe me, no matter how good the CD might have sounded, it bears no relationship to how good the music sounds on this disc. Indeed, amongst the classical DVD-Audio discs I have heard, this is one of the better ones, a superlative mix of superb music that amply demonstrates the sublime genius of the music created by Antonio Vivaldi and the enormous, and near endless variety he could bring to his music. He understood opera and the voice enormously and lavished significant personal attention on each and every production in his lifetime. To unlock the key to this music he created requires the special talents of a special voice, and that is what Cecilia Bartoli brings to the music. With vocal gymnastics akin to a Paganini violin virtuoso piece at times required from the singer, few could handle this sort of singing across the range that Cecilia Bartoli demonstrates with absolute surety.

    Superb music, superb singing, superb engineering. This ranks very highly amongst the 83 discs that make up my DVD-Audio collection. Even if you normally avoid classical music in general or opera singing in particular, this is one disc that might very well be worth checking out - to simply prove that opera is by no means a bar to a catchy tune and thoroughly enjoyable music. This was a rare instance where three consecutive listens to the disc for review purposes was a delight rather than a chore. Now if Universal Music would just wander through the rest of Cecilia Bartoli's catalogue... Her releases The Salieri Album (another stunning album from what I have heard of it) and Gluck: Italian Arias are already available on SACD: how about a DVD-Audio release for these two please? Mind you, if you would like to give us Mozart Portraits, Rossini Heroines, Rossini Recital, Mozart Arias, Rossini Arias, An Italian Songbook, Italian Songs, Chant D'Amour, Arie Antiche, Haydn's Orfeo ed Euridice, Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito or Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia amongst others, well that would be very nice too...

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Track Listing

1. Dell'aura al sussurrar
2. Dopo un'orrida procella
3. Di due rai languir costante
4. Qual favellar? ...
5. Zeffiretti, che sussurrate
6. Alma oppressa
7. Dite, oime
8. Sventurata navicella
9. Sorte, che m'invitasti ...
10. Tra le follie ...
11. Gelido in ogni vena
12. Anch'il mar par che sommerga
13. Di trombe guerriere

Transfer Quality

Video

    There is no video on the disc, only stills. There is nothing at all wrong with the presentation of these.

Audio

    There are three soundtrack options on the disc, but it is rather disappointing that the slick manages to incorrectly state two of them. The slick would have you believe that there is an Advanced Resolution Surround Sound effort at a rate of 44.1kHz/16-bit and an Advanced Resolution Stereo effort at a rate of 48kHz/20-bit. In actual fact the 44.1kHz/16-bit (that's the CD rate by the way) surround effort is a 48kHz/24-bit MLP Advanced Resolution Surround Sound 5.1 effort and the 48kHz/20-bit stereo effort is a 48kHz/24-bit MLP Advanced Resolution Stereo 2.0 soundtrack. The third soundtrack on the disc is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack but unusually not at the full 448 Kb/s rate but rather at the 384 Kb/s rate. The language is in all cases Italian.

    Some will no doubt question why the use of 48kHz/24-bit sound rather than 96kHz/24-bit sound but I am not going to be one of them. I take the rather pragmatic view that right now anything is better than nothing for DVD-Audio so if the alternative to 48kHz/24-bit sound is nothing, well I will just live with and enjoy 48kHz/24-bit sound thank you very much. And when it is this good, have we really got that much to complain about? Okay, maybe the higher rate would have given the sound more space and allow for a marginally more open sound, but really I would be hard-pressed to say exactly where that would have specifically improved this release.

    One thing that needs to be understood about this sort of collection is that in itself it is not going to be an obvious surround-sound spectacular. The way the music is presented should be very reminiscent of the way it would be presented on stage: that is, quite frontal but with mostly subtle ambience to the rear channels. These soundtracks have been engineered by someone who understand this. As a result, they do actually become very good surround-sound examples. I found myself closing my eyes whilst listening to these soundtracks and it was very easy to envisage being in a small intimate place with Cecilia Bartoli singing just for me. That is how good the engineering is on these soundtracks - but more especially the MLP 5.1 effort.

    Which truth be told is a beauty. Aside from possessing a wonderful body (the sound that is) the mixing is just about spot on so that the orchestral contribution from the excellent Il Giardino Armonico is not overpowering but very complementary. The gorgeous vocal contribution from Cecilia Bartoli then literally sings above that accompaniment in a wonderfully natural way, every word crisply heard and every note captured to near perfection. That in many ways is how obviously this surround sound effort is when compared to the CD: everything is much more open and every nuance that Cecilia Bartoli brings to the music is so readily heard that it is in many ways like listening to her singing this stuff for the very first time. There is simply so much additional detail here that we have never heard before. When the surround encoding is used in an obvious way - during the beautiful Zeffiretti, che sussurrate - it is done so in a really wonderful way so that the lead vocal line is heard very clearly out of the front channels with only the answering echo line moving and being heard clearly out of the rear channels. Perhaps a large proportion of the sound engineers around today ought to get hold of this disc to hear how this sort of thing is supposed to be done. I will not go as far as to say that it brought tears to my eyes, but in what is generally an exceptional quality soundtrack, this was by far and away the highlight of the sound.

    The DVD-Audio MLP 2.0 soundtrack is in its own right a very good effort too. Whilst losing a bit of that ambience to be found in the surround sound effort, the engineers seem to have compensated by concentrating all the more on the detail and the result is a very natural sound that does just about all it can (within the limitations of the format) to do every justice to the music. Even though it lacks the surround encoding, it still seems to have a nice body to the sound and it is quite open. Whilst I would not voluntarily choose to listen to this in preference to the six channel effort, if you don't have the ability to handle the full six channels then this soundtrack is certainly still going to do a d*** fine job for you. Compared to the CD? Well, there simply is no comparison - this leaves it so far for dead that it is not funny.

    The DVD-Video compatible Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is the marginal disappointment on the disc. Whilst the inherent limitations of the format were never going to make for an easy comparison with the MLP six channel effort, I was rather expecting something rather good. One area that lets it down a little is the bass, which is just a little more obvious here - and really it should not be. The music does not require any obvious bass and yet it is obviously present here. Still, it is not an overpowering bass by any means and the mixing has been done in such a way as to ensure that whilst the format cannot give the distinct separation that the MLP format can, the overall feel is still very good. If this was the only way that you could listen to the music, then I doubt that you would be seriously disappointed. The only other concern I have about the sound is that it is less refined, less subtle, less distinct - all of which are more a reflection I believe of the inherent limitations of the format rather than any problem in the mixing.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    On paper it looked a far more reasonable enough package than it actually turned out to be.

Booklet

   Quite a decent effort with full lyrics for the music - in Italian and English. There is also a short essay on Antonio Vivaldi and some design drawings relating to the initial stagings of some of the operas.

Gallery - Photo

   A pathetic nine photos does not comprise an acceptable gallery for this lady. Aside from being too small, there should be dozens more of this lovely woman! In DVD-Video mode you get to see one per track, with the last four tracks getting a repeat. In DVD-Audio mode you can view them as a gallery or during the playback of the tracks.

Interviews - Cast - Notes

   This really got my expectations up when I saw it listed on the slick. I was rather disappointed therefore to find that rather than being an actual video interview with the lovely lady, it is merely nine pages of notes comprising an interview that appeared in the press, including the ABC's 24 Hours magazine. Okay but definitely not what was expected.

Discography - Catalogue

   Not complete by any stretch of the imagination, but okay nonetheless. It starts with the DVD releases of Live In Italy and La Cenerentola before moving onto the CD releases of Cecilia: A Portrait, Arie Antiche, Rossini Heroines, Mozart Portraits, Gluck: Italian Arias and The Salieri Album. The DVDs come with about two minutes of video extracts which appear to be presented in an aspect ratio of 2.00:1 and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The CDs come with about two minutes or so of musical extracts from each, again in what sounds to be Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Nicely done even if not complete.

Credits

   Three pages of self-running notes.

R4 vs R1

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

    This is the same disc as released worldwide.

Summary

    Whilst I am not the most unbiased reviewer when it comes to Cecilia Bartoli, the music presented here is amongst the most enjoyable I have heard on an opera-orientated aria disc ever. The fact that the superb music has been afforded a terrific MLP soundtrack only makes this purchase a no-brainer for DVD-Audio fans. Even if you don't own a DVD-Audio capable player though, there is enough quality here to ensure that this be considered as a purchase. Straight to the very top of my list of favourite DVD-Audio discs. I am off to listen to the disc again right now...

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Saturday, July 24, 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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