‘Mission’ Accomplished

Cecilia Bartoli fashions the music of Agostino Steffani into a conceptual work brimming with passion, politics and intrigue—the finest hour in her storied career—and it’s already spawned a novel.

Cecilia Bartoli is one of the opera world’s most formidable personalities, a truth her forthcoming album, Mission, accentuates both in the power and passion of its performances and in its cover photo of the artist dressed in a clerical collar, her head shaved (presumably a bald cap, or so we hope), brandishing in one hand a crucifix as if she’s warding off evil spirits, her eyes fixed in a steely glare.

Even more ambitious than her acclaimed Grammy winning 2009 album, Sacrificium, Mission is generating much pre-release buzz ahead of it October 2 launch. The program is drawn from the works of a nearly forgotten Italian composer, Agostino Steffani, who lived in the 17th and 18th Centuries. A colorful character who was also an ecclesiastic and a diplomat, Steffani’s music works are regarded with mixed feelings among classical scholars. Though heap abundant praise on his cantatas for two voices, other critics deride his vocal works as inferior to those of Scarlatti and other of his contemporaries, whereas his opera overtures are hailed for what the Encyclopedia Britannica cites as their “remarkable combination of Italian suavity with a logical conciseness of construction which is due to French influence.” He is, if nothing else, considered a major influence on Handel’s music.

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DVD trailer for Cecilia Bartoli’s Mission

Ms. Bartoli has found much to admire, in musical and extra-musical terms, in Steffani’s work, and she brings a compelling narrative to life in Mission with what her website calls “a mix of international politics, religious conflict, diplomatic secrecy, spying and sensational music.”

That’s not all. Best selling author Donna Leon, a major Bartoli fan, has written a mystery novel, The Jewels of Paradise, to accompany the Mission album, and it will be available along with the CD in a pricey deluxe edition.

Still more: to stoke the abovementioned pre-release buzz, Ms. Bartoli is featured in a six-part webisode, with each episode (most run a bit more than a minute, with #2’s near-three-minute running time being the longest in the series) revealing tantalizing bits about Mission’s story, the making of the album and its raison d’etre. At the end of each webisode, a code word comes on the screen. Viewers who validate all six of these clues at www.deccaclassics.com/mission will be rewarded with an exclusive pre-release Mission listening session.

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Cecilia Bartoli introduces Mission, featuring the vocal works of Agostini Steffani, whom she calls ‘a forgotten genius’

More from Ms. Bartoli’s website:

Following the exceptional artistic and commercial success of 2009’s Sacrificium (which earned Cecilia her fifth Grammy award), Ms. Bartoli now turns to the early baroque period for the first time in her recording career and uncovers a treasure of beautiful music in an album almost entirely composed of world premiere recordings.

The album showcases the music of little-known Italian composer Agostino Steffani (1654–1728), and will include solo arias of various moods and styles, several duets, solo numbers with chorus–all sung in Italian–and instrumental interludes that create an organic transition from one piece to the next and an arc that reaches from the beginning to the end of the album.

Such was the appeal of the project that longtime Bartoli admirer and global best-selling author Donna Leon decided to write a mystery novel–The Jewels of Paradise–to accompany Cecilia’s album, which uses the mystery surrounding the composer’s story as the center of its plot. The Jewels of Paradise will be released simultaneously with Cecilia Bartoli’s album in English (UK and USA), German, French, Dutch, Spanish and Catalan.

Among the distinguished names appearing on Mission is star French counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky who features in a first-time collaboration with Cecilia on a selection of duets, alongside the Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera, the period orchestra I Barocchisti from Lugano, Switzerland, and conductor Diego Fasolis.

Mission will be issued in a hardback book product, which includes much historic information written by specialists in the various fields. A deluxe edition will also be released, which joins the novel and the CD together in one product.

In the interest of enticing more people to listen to Mission, here is the entire six-part webisode. We’ve even included the code words for those impatient types who can’t stick around to the end of each entire episode.

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Mission, Webisode No. 1) Code word:  Music

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Mission, Webisode No. 2) Code word:  Investigatore

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Mission, Webisode No. 3) Code word: Sacred

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Mission, Webisode No. 4) Code word: Steffani

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Mission, Webisode No. 5) Code word: Italy

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Mission, Webisode No. 6) Code word: October