Not perfect, but still a good performance of Bellini's masterpiece
I have a lot of fondness for Norma as an opera and consider it Bellini's masterpiece. The story is the most believable of his operas- though it doesn't quite shake off the notion that is often the case with his operas that the music overbalances the story- and the music is absolutely gorgeous. Of the DVD productions, the best one is by far the one from Orange with Montserrat Caballe/Jon Vickers with the Hasmik Papian Amsterdam(so far, I have three DVD productions of Norma left to see) faring least.
This production is good, but falls short of being great. I actually only found the production to have two big problems. The sound is sometimes good, but it is rather restricted in the opening chorus and the duets between Norma and Adalgisa are not very well balanced, with the sound favouring Cedolins too much. Vincenzo Lo Scola didn't really ignite my fire as Pollione. True, Pollione is a thankless role and perhaps the second most loathsome tenor role character in all of opera after Pinkerton. But Corelli and Vickers did prove that you can do something with a role as thankless as Pollione, unfortunately Lo Scola- while a vast improvement over the tenor, a disaster all round he was, in the June Anderson production- is one of many who did not. He certainly has a good voice, not always a ringing sort of voice but strong, heroic and reliable. But he is unexciting, as far away from passionate as you can go, and never convincing dramatically.
Much about the production is to be liked though. It is a conventional and beautiful-looking production, with the stage direction never dull enough to be static or weird enough to be distasteful. Norma and Pollione's chemistry doesn't excite, but that of Norma and Adalgisa does and the final scene is very moving. The orchestral playing and chorus singing have vigorous style, tremendous power and poignant pathos and the conducting is sympathetic and assured with nothing pushed or compromised. So from a musical front it is very accomplished. Lo Scola excepted, I thought the rest of the performances were above-serviceable. Andrea Papi is an authoritative and wise Oroveso with his voice showing some warmth, if also some unsteadiness. Begoña Alberdi and Jon Plazaola as Clotilde and Flavio are very good.
Fiorenza Cedolins' Norma is mostly to be admired. That is not to say that she is completely amazing, the colouratura is smudged, which is always a let-down when it comes to singing Bel-Canto and some of the fortissimo singing on the squally side. I also think it is a voice more suited to roles like Tosca. The voice is an attractive and intelligently used one though and shows some good range of dynamics. And on a dramatic front she is very committed and intensely moving. Overall her performance was impressive but not outstanding. Sonia Ganassi's Adalgisa is sensational however, like I said with her performance opposite Edita Gruberova for me only Tatiana Troyanos opposite Sutherland is better than Ganassi in the role on DVD. Of the leads, she is the only one to have a genuinely good Bel-Canto technique, with her tone being smooth and creamy with striking dynamic and vocal colours, and dramatically she is sympathetic commanding with no effort whatsoever seemingly needed.
Summing up, this Norma has its imperfections and falls short of being great like the Caballe production was but it is still good and worthy. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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