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Cecilia Bartoli at the NCH 11/10/2003 (a review)

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    The first of July, when ticket booking for the Cecilia Bartoli concert opened, marked the beginning of a long hot summer of anticipation for Irish music lovers. The potent promise of her advent hastened the passing of the barren months, fortifying us with the strength to be indifferent to the vicissitudes of the Irish governments War on Culture. An exorbitant burden of expectation rested on her shoulders; the denouement was scheduled for the second Saturday of October.

    The Concert Hall buzzed with taut anticipation as we took our balcony seats. The orchestra took their places and played a beautiful Salieri overture. With a brilliant elegance the orchestra and the baroque music melded, the clarity of their entrée further honing a razor sharp sense of expectation. A nervous applause followed, for the moment was upon us. Emerging majestically from the wings, she acknowledged the vigorous applause of the audience with a wonderfully engaging smile.

    Her whole body swayed in harmony with the orchestra during the short preamble to her first aria. She started to sing and in a few short notes of velvet breathy brilliance we were transported to a musical Elysium. To attempt to analyse all of the beauty with which my senses were assailed would be an exercise in futility, for her voice is beyond mortal description. Her passion for her subject was unmistakeable – this performance was a labour of love. The audience gasped. Applause, though it seemed so inadequate, was the only way we knew to express our appreciation.

    She sang her second aria – would that the moment had never passed. No voice was ever more touchingly beautiful. With her intonations and facial expressions, she charged the atmosphere of the Concert Hall so that you could reach out and feel her distress. She floated notes out to us and we all drank in, for now we knew that we were witnessing something truly special. This was a performance that would be talked about for years, probably for generations. In awe the audience applauded, and she acknowledged our adoration with a most gracious humility.

    The exceptional orchestra, unavoidably eclipsed by such a sublime and exquisite voice, played another overture. Like a sorbet between courses, they left us drooling in anticipation for what might be yet to come. She returned to the stage to a rapturous welcome. We listened agape. We sat on the edge of our seats as she held long quiet notes for an eternity, and we forgot to sit back. Her voice, her facial expressions and her body language were utterly compelling. This exceptional and unique voice, at the peak of her powers, was giving an unforgettable performance to a captivated audience.

    There were vocal pyrotechnics for the last aria before the interval. She decorated this enchanting piece with transcendent coloratura. Her breath control was a wonder to behold, and certainly beyond mortal science to explain. The audience erupted at the end. She greeted our adulation with refreshing modesty. Simultaneously drained and overloaded by the sensuous programme, incredibly we were only half way through it.

    We discussed the performance animatedly during the interval. Elation at what had passed thus far was coupled with a fear that so high a standard could not possibly be maintained (how wrong we were). The audience did not need reminders over the tannoy to resume their auditorium seats. The second half of this inspired programme was exceptionally brilliant. The genius of Ms.Bartoli coupled with an outstanding performance once again from the orchestra ensured the place of this evenings recital in the history of the National Concert Hall.

    At the end of the designated programme, the audience erupted. Presented with her bouquet to a standing ovation, Ms.Bartoli took three curtain calls. The applause did not diminish. She seemed genuinely moved by the enthusiasm of her roomful of devoted disciples.

    She sang a luscious encore – there was another standing ovation, and another three curtain calls. As I stood at the balcony I saw a gentleman sitting in the stalls below me, what was left of his thin greying hair tied back in a ridiculous ponytail. During the standing ovation, he didn’t applaud and he didn’t stand up. Perhaps such adulation was beneath one so erudite as he.

    Everyone else bathed unashamedly in the reflected sunlight of her undoubted brilliance. Their applause bayed for more. And sure enough, she graced her worshipping admirers with one last charmingly beautiful encore, something to take home. Her accomplishment complete, the audience cheered and clapped, but this time she did not return. The orchestra left the stage, and we were left to contemplate the enormity of what had come to pass this magnificent October night.


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