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It seems there are gangs of acolytes scouring the world’s libraries for mezzo rep to sate the appetites of Cecilia Bartoli and Joyce DiDonato. In this one Joyce picks clean the bones of early 19th-century Naples, with the mixed results you might expect. The highlight, on many levels, is Mary’s prayer from Maria Stuarda – both in musical and performance terms, because here she is really inside the music in a role she knows backwards, and it shows in the freedom, character and control: she knows where she’s going. That simply isn’t true in all the other pieces, which cover the gamut of bel canto possibilities from the panto-dame hiccuppings of Pacini’s coloratura to the serenity of Bellini via Mercadante, Rossini and some down-table, only fairly interesting contributions from Carafa and Valentini. There really is a gulf in quality here; though the finale of Pacini’s Saffo is interesting enough, you won’t want to hear it more than once. Joyce does it all with her usual gumption, sensitivity and style, though you sense some autopilot at times.

Robert Thicknesse Read the full review on Agora Classica

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