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A slapped wrist for Cecilia Bartoli concerning the cover of her new album, Farinelli, a homage to the 18th-century castrato. I never dreamt I would mention bearded diva and Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst in these pages, but Chi-chi’s lookalike photo brings that day. Love her or loathe her, Ms Wurst (Thomas Neuwirth in real life) has highlighted LGBTI rights across the world with great political acuity, and has been both internationally celebrated and vilified for her efforts in battling bigotry. Bartoli’s press release states that she is ‘playing around with the presentation and perception of gender’. As she declares, ‘discussions about the abuse of the bodily integrity of artists have become so topical’. True, but what happens next? Incredibly different artists, but one led the way and the other just seems to be jumping on the bandwagon. Bartoli’s cover is arresting and raises a smile but I doubt it will make many think New releases about gender identity or even wince at the fate of a castrato going under the knife. Have fun with your image, but don’t try and sell it as a political statement. But as Conchita has said, ‘you don’t have to love me, but you have to respect that I’m here’ – with which let us turn to the CD’s contents. It is a selection of arias by Porpora, Hasse, Caldara and Broschi (Farinelli’s brother), and it is excellent. The singing is crisp and authoritative. Bartoli’s emotional range is outstanding, and she can waftthrough a line or blast a phrase with style. She relishes the texts. Giovanni Antonini’s conducting matches his diva in pace and temperament. The three arias from Porpora’s Polifemo signal a work that is worth further revival: it enjoyed success in a semi-staging at this year’s Salzburg Whitsun Festival, where Bartoli is Artistic Director.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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