Those already tired of carols and Christmas Oratorios will find a less seasonal but just as festive alternative in the program Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón have concocted for their European tour this December. Composed around Mozart and bel canto, it is so packed with “greatest hits” it feels like all you might want for Christmas – for opera enthusiasts at least. During last Monday’s performance at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Orchestra La Scintilla twinkled and Cecilia Bartoli sparkled, Rolando Villazón less so.

Orchestra La Scintilla, an emanation of the orchestra of the Zurich Opera, has a rich history of collaboration with Ms Bartoli, both on stage and in the recording studio. Under the lead of concert master Ada Pesch, they proved attentive musical partners and showcased exciting playing. Performing on period instruments, the musicians demonstrated with brio their affinity with Italian early romantic music. The two Rossini overtures (from La Cerenentola and the rarer La scala di seta) were jubilant moments, the winds particularly sounding heady and beautiful. Bellini’s Oboe Concerto, a piece unknown to me, was played dexterously by oboist Pier Luigi Fabretti and felt like a special treat.

In the last few years, Ms Bartoli’s concert tours have mainly focused on unearthing forgotten music by lesser-known Baroque composers: Salieri, Porpora, Steffani or Raupach to name a few. Monday night was an occasion to listen to her in the repertoire that propelled her to stardom in the 1990s: Mozart and Rossini. She did not disappoint. In the Mozart concert aria “Chi sà, chi sà, qual sia” and as the soubrette Zerlina in the duet “Là ci darem la mano”, her voice sounded fresh as ever, with that unique bite into the words that makes the verses of Italian librettists burst into life. Angelina’s final rondo from Rossini’s Cenerentola was the showpiece of the first half, her mastery of vocal pyrotechnics leaving the audience wonderstruck. Rossini’s opera, based on Perrault’s Cinderella, is undertitled “Goodness triumphant” and this is exactly how it felt.

In her duets with Rolando Villazón, the perceptible complicity and joy of performing together was an endearing thing to witness. I was however far less taken by the Mexican tenor’s performance. In his current vocal condition, Mr Villazon made a risky choice with the repertoire selected for this series of concerts. Both Mozart and the bel canto music leave the voice very exposed. There are good things about his voice: Mr Villazón has an immediately recognizable timbre, now even darker than at his prime – although not dark enough to handle Don Giovanni, a role for baritone, in the duet “Là ci darem la mano”, for which the palette of colours sounded too limited. His stamina seems endless and does not disclose vocal frailty as such. Final notes of arias are sustained, sometimes with insolent cockiness. He seemed however to only keep singing forte throughout the evening, and the lack of dynamics really marred his performance. At times, his acting attempted to overcompensate the emotion that the lack of subtlety in his singing prevented to express, unfortunately to no effect. I never really felt the shepherd’s distress in Bellini’s “Torna, vezzosa Fillide”. In Donizetti’s famous tearjerker “Una furtiva lagrima”, his Nemorino left me unmoved.

Quite unexpectedly, as he has never been associated with the Rossini repertoire, it is the final scene from Rossini’s Otello that found him at his best. His dark timbre suited the jealous Moor’s angry resolve as he is about to kill the innocent Desdemona. The tessitura, not too high in this final scene, fitted his voice well. His excellent acting skills, combined with those of Ms Bartoli, made for a truly riveting murder scene. The emotional climax of the evening came just before this final scene however. Dressed in a sumptuous white gown embroidered with the blue branches of the weeping willow from her song, Cecilia Bartoli took Desdemona’s melancholic canzone del salice (Willow Song) to celestial heights, unfolding the delicate musical lines to the exquisite sound of the harp. The Scrooge that I am was simply under the spell.