The line of Amina was initially written by Bellini for Giuditta Pasta, a mezzo-soprano, before being turned into a soprano role by Maria Malibran in 1833. Therefore, this combination was the perfect excuse for Cecilia Bartoli to push for this project. Furthermore, the marketing campaign is rather easy to set: first recording with a mezzo as Amina, and "world premiere recording on period instruments".
The thing is, I never liked period instruments and I still don't after listening to this new release.
And - how should I put that as gently as possible? - Cecilia Bartoli does not make for a good Amina. Despite all my sympathy for the woman, her Amina will not be remembered as a defining moment for the role. Of course one could argue that nobody is used to listening to Amina as a mezzo and that's why her performance is not appreciated at its true merits. That assumption is obviously relevant, yet my dislike of Bartoli's Amina has little to do with it - but rather speaks to the essence of bel canto. This style demands a perfect breath control to live up to the expectations of the score, yet Cecilia Bartoli fails to provide it in this studio recording.
I'm rather embarrassed for her, truth be told, because if what's burnt is the best she could do with the score (and why wouldn't it be? it's a studio recording after all), it's definitely not flattering.
On the other hand, both Juan Diego Flórez and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo are insanely brilliant here, and that alone requires to buy the CD (JDF's highlight must be in Act II, "perché non posso odiarti"). The chorus and Liliana Nikiteanu deserve praise as well (I'm much more skeptical about Gemma Bertagnolli's Lisa).
The conduction of Alessandro di Marchi starts off as messy and strangely dissonant (especially in "In Elvezia non v'ha rosa", and the period instruments don't help) but, by the second scene of Act I, is showing interesting colors and nuances that keep developing throughout the entire piece.
This CD is presented in a book-like packaging, which is OK I guess, until you realize how hazardous this may turn out to be for the protection and conservation of the CDs. The iconography chosen is highly reminiscent of Madama Butterfly's (awkwardly anachronic and off topic).