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Sound Bites: 'Mona Lisa Smile,' 'Aida' reviews

Movie soundtrack schmaltzy but sweet
/ Source: The Associated Press

Just in time for Christmas, reviews of the soundtrack to "Mona Lisa Smile" and a historic live recording of "Aida."

Various Artists, “Mona Lisa Smile” (Sony)

“Mona Lisa Smile,” the soundtrack for the new Julia Roberts film set in the 1950s, alternates between schmaltzy and sweet, as artists of today tackle classic songs with varying results.

Celine Dion goes for subtle, but ends up sounding benign and unspectacular singing “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” while Tori Amos’ take on “You Belong to Me” is painfully overwrought. The album’s only original song, Elton John’s “The Heart of Every Girl,” is fluff — couldn’t he have performed a standard instead?

Amos redeems herself with the sassy and sublime “Murder, He Says.” Equally great is Seal’s Nat King Cole-esque rendition of “Mona Lisa.” And Mandy Moore has finally found a cover that works for her in “Secret Love.”

Also included are “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and “Sh Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)” from album producer Trevor Horn’s orchestra, and Rachel Portman’s suite from the film. Though not from well-known artists, all are beautifully done and worth a listen.

Despite the missteps, “Mona Lisa Smile” is a trip back in time worth taking, at the very least to spark interest in hearing the songs performed by an artist from the era.  —Rachel Kipp, AP Writer

Various Artists, “Aida” (Grand Tier)

This historic live recording from a generation ago is one of the first offerings in Opera D’Oro’s new midprice Grand Tier series. Unlike the bargain-basement releases for which Opera D’Oro is best known, Grand Tier sets come in a slipcase package (with specially commissioned artwork by painter Rafal Olbinski), a complete libretto and a thoughtful essay about artists and performance.

The 1972 “Aida” is noteworthy for several reasons, including a chance to hear the estimable Martina Arroyo in a role in which she was overshadowed by Leontyne Price. The young Placido Domingo is also in fine form, as is the veteran mezzo Cossotto. In a bit of luxury casting, the great bass Nicolai Ghiaurov takes the role of the high priest Ramfis.

Sound can be problematic, given that this is a live performance and not a studio recording. Other initial releases in the series include Puccini’s “La Boheme” with Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti, Thomas Schippers conducting (Rome, 1969); Verdi’s “Otello” with Domingo, Freni and Cappuccilli, Carlos Kleiber conducting (Milan, 1976); and Bellini’s “Norma,” with Maria Callas, Ebe Stignani and Mario del Monaco, Tullio Serafin conducting (Rome, 1955).    —Mike Silverman, AP Writer