Tommasini on Met Norma

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Tommasini on Met Norma

Post by lennygoran » Tue Sep 26, 2017 8:14 am

Review: Compelling Singers Lift a Muddled ‘Norma’ at the Metropolitan Opera


I'll judge for myself of course-I sure don't trust Tommasini that much-I can't imagine it being worse than the Salzburg update. And I'll answer his question:

"During the enthusiastic ovation at the Met, the stage lights went up and I could finally see what everyone really looked like. I know “Norma” has scenes in a moonlit forest. But must a director be so literal about it?"

Anthony, yes! :lol:

Bellini’s 1831 opera “Norma” is rich in themes that resonate in today’s political and social climate. The director David McVicar spoke about these in an interview in Playbill as anticipation built for his new production of “Norma,” which opened the Metropolitan Opera’s new season on Monday.

Brutal, boorish clashes of culture and religion drive the story. The title character, a high priestess of a druid clan living in Gaul under oppressive Roman occupation, is the unquestioned leader of her community. Even the warriors among them are in awe of Norma’s authority. But Norma is also a vulnerable woman struggling to balance, you could say, a professional and personal life. She has fallen in love with the conquering Roman proconsul (and given birth to their two boys).

But Mr. McVicar’s essentially traditional production, with drab-looking sets (by Robert Jones) and annoyingly dim lighting, only glances at these issues.

Mr. McVicar has given the Met some brilliant productions in recent years, especially his daffy yet revelatory staging of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare.” But this “Norma” seems somewhat muddled. His proven ability to draw out strong performances from singers serves him well, though, at least with the two artists who matter most: the soprano Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma; and the mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as Adalgisa, a novice druid priestess, who unwittingly becomes Norma’s hated rival in love, and then, in a powerful twist, her most devout friend. Both singers give their all in affecting performances.

Mr. McVicar has built a good working relationship with Ms. Radvanovsky, having directed her at the Met in Donizetti’s Tudor queens trilogy, which, in an acclaimed feat of vocal and dramatic stamina, she sang within a single season (2015-2016). Bellini’s Norma, one of the most daunting soprano roles in opera, presents special difficulties. Her music is replete with the kind of long-lined lyrical writing that defines the early 19th-century Italian bel canto style. Yet the volatile, jealous Norma continually unleashes chilling outbursts.

Ms. Radvanovsky, with her bright, powerful voice and dramatic fervor, excelled in Norma’s moments of torment and fury. Her sound has a grainy cast, a slightly hard-edged quality. To her many admirers that sound is the essence of raw, true emotion, something that came through on Monday from Ms. Radvanovsky’s first entrance.

The scene is a forest grove sacred to the druids, depicted here by a tangle of tall, branchless trees. Flecks of light streaming from the moon suggest some high-up leaves. Though there is hint of the surreal about this forest, the set looks old-fashioned, even a little paltry.

Norma, the daughter of Oroveso, the clan’s chief (the muscular bass Matthew Rose), has been praying at the temple to seek guidance. The warriors, looking rough and ready, some of them bare-chested and brandishing swords, want Norma to sanction an attack. When Ms. Radvanovsky appears — her long hair loose and unkempt, wearing a lacy gown — she looks like she has barely come out of a trance.

Norma counsels peace, at least for now, in a charged stretch of recitative that leads to the great aria “Casta Diva,” when Norma prays to the moon goddess to bestow solace and patience. This aria benefits when sung by a soprano with plush sound and velvety legato, not Ms. Radvanovsky’s selling points.

Still, Norma has an ulterior motive, since she is stalling for time, hiding from her people that she is their enemy’s lover. Ms. Radvanovsky’s slightly piercing sound tellingly exposed the subtext of Norma’s intentions. Yet, when lilting phrases rose to soft, high pianissimos, she sang with beguiling tenderness.

There was some roughness and smudgy coloratura passagework in her singing, moments when she sacrificed clear Italian diction in pursuit of intensity. Her performance was courageously exposed, emotionally as well as vocally.

Ms. DiDonato’s Adalgisa, though a novice in Norma’s temple, has a completely different look. Her hair is blonde and short, almost punkish; her simple dress falls from one shoulder like some waif’s. It’s not clear why. Still, Mr. DiDonato exudes youthful longing and fretful confusion. Her melting tone and natural richness of voice were ideal for Adalgisa’s elegant, wistful phrases. Ms. DiDonato, typically expert at dispatching coloratura roulades and passagework, had some patches when he voice seemed pushed.

Still, she got to the core of the character, especially in the confession scene, one of the most inspired in this Bellini masterpiece. Adalgisa comes to Norma’s dwelling (which here looks like some gargantuan forest igloo made of branches and sticks) to confess that she has broken her vow of chastity and fallen in love. At first, Norma is motherly and understanding. After all, she’s been there (though she keeps this to herself).

The tenor Joseph Calleja is Pollione, the Roman proconsul, Norma’s lover who, we soon learn, has now fallen utterly for Adalgisa. Though Mr. Calleja’s voice is by nature burnished and ardent, he has a tendency to sing with a slightly nasal quality that can result in a pinched tone. That was a problem here. Also, perhaps with Mr. McVicar’s encouragement, Mr. Calleja presented Pollione, at least initially, as entitled and self-absorbed, and he seemed uncomfortable doing so. There was a telling moment when Norma erupts, furious and humiliated to discover her lover’s betrayal. This Pollione rubs it in: Mr. Calleja, lifting Ms. Radvanovsky’s chin in his hand, almost mocked her as he confirmed the worst.

Whatever the frustrations with Mr. McVicar’s staging, the greatness of this Bellini opera came through in scene after scene. In Act II, Norma, half-crazed with despair, approaches her sleeping boys with the intention of killing them, rather than let Pollione scurry them off to Rome, and who knows what. (Several times Norma acknowledges that she both loves and hates her children: Talk about a theme with timeless resonance.) Ms. Radvanovsky brought tremulous poignancy to the aching phrases Norma sings over her sleeping children. This is one of many Bellini moments that inspired the melodic writing of Chopin, a Bellini devotee.

The long, complex scene when Norma and Adalgisa work through their crisis and discover sisterly friendship was, as it should be, the highlight of the evening. Whether trading soaring phrases, or joyously skipping up the scale in perfectly synced thirds, Ms. Radvanovsky and Ms. DiDonato brought out the best in each other.

The conductor Carlo Rizzi led an energetic and supplely lyrical performance. When Norma, now ready for vengeance, calls upon her warriors to revolt, Mr. Rizzi drove the choristers to frenzied intensity as they cried for “Blood!” Mr. McVicar added savage-looking extras wielding flaming torches to gin up the action.

Was Mr. McVicar compensating with these heavy-handed touches for not having a more resonant concept to begin with? I still have a Salzburg Festival production from 2015 in mind, staged for Cecilia Bartoli, updated to France in the time of World War II, with the druids presented as French Resistance fighters and the Roman occupiers as vaguely German. Now that production brought out the opera’s clash-of-cultures theme.

During the enthusiastic ovation at the Met, the stage lights went up and I could finally see what everyone really looked like. I know “Norma” has scenes in a moonlit forest. But must a director be so literal about it? ... ctionfront

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Re: Tommasini on Met Norma

Post by Lance » Tue Sep 26, 2017 10:22 am

Tommasini, of course, is VERY good with words and knows precisely how to explain his thoughts.
Lance G. Hill

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]


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Re: Tommasini on Met Norma

Post by maestrob » Tue Sep 26, 2017 12:50 pm

Yes, indeed, even when one doesn't agree with him, Tommasini makes a compelling argument. I have no objection to Radvanovsky in the title role (I hope they telecast this or issue it on DVD0, but I miss Netrebko's fuller, lusher sound in the role. Too bad she pulled out.

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Re: Tommasini on Met Norma

Post by lennygoran » Tue Sep 26, 2017 4:12 pm

Lance wrote:
Tue Sep 26, 2017 10:22 am
Tommasini, of course, is VERY good with words and knows precisely how to explain his thoughts.
Lance my problem with him is not how he writes-it's his dislike of traditional productions that turns me off. Regards, Len

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Re: Tommasini on Met Norma

Post by lennygoran » Thu Sep 28, 2017 8:31 pm

Here's a review I like better! Regards, Len :D

The Met opens its season with a fine new Norma

By Robert Levine, 26 September 2017

There’s Brünnhilde, Elektra, Violetta and Aida... and then there’s Norma, in its own class. Even putting aside the difficulties of conquering the art of bel canto, with its pure line, trills, fiorature, octave leaps, long breaths and dynamic changes, the role is long and the character is complex: a Druid priestess leading prayer in front of the people she is betraying; a mother hiding and protecting her children but tempted to murder them to spite their unfaithful father; the daughter of an unforgiving man; and a woman scorned, her rage is as vivid as her love, which is as vivid as her forgiveness and, eventually, sacrifice.

It also doesn’t help that Maria Callas, unique among sopranos in so many ways, sang the role 83 times and left nearly a dozen (private and studio) recordings of it, or that other great Normas within memory are Montserrat Caballé, Joan Sutherland, Leyla Gencer and Renata Scotto. Comparisons are odious but hard to avoid. But now, after making quite a name for herself at the Met in Verdi (Amelia in Ballo, Aida) and more recently, Donizetti’s Three Queens – all arduous roles – Sondra Radvanovsky has brought her Norma to New York in a new production for Opening Night.

Sir David McVicar’s traditional production works well. It is rough-and-ready, with sets by Robert Jones, all of it looking properly ancient, from the stones and bare, almost fossilized trees in Act 1 to Norma’s hut with its roof and walls of interwoven branches, and insistence on a certain gloom – either moonlit or candle-lit – which was only occasionally too dark. The painted, unkempt Druids surged and lurked menacingly, their warlike choruses a true cry to battle. Norma enters in Act 1, her hair somewhat wild, crawling to the sacred altar, looking as if she’s in a reverie before finding the inspiration to address her people. Adalgisa, her dearest friend and rival for Pollione, the Roman soldier with whom Norma has had two children, joins her on the altar, leaving tellingly as Norma calls for vengeance against Rome. The women’s friendship rings true.

As for Ms Radvanovsky, she cleared many of the hurdles mentioned above. Her outbursts were more effective than her introspective moments, and she fudged the fiorature near the close of her first act cabaletta. But her breath control is remarkable, even at the incredibly slow tempo taken for “Casta diva”, and we were treated to some of the loveliest high pianissimi the house has heard in a while. Her rage was palpable at the close of Act 1. One has heard more moving accounts of “Dormano entrambi”, in which Norma contemplates killing her children, but this may come. In all, her portrayal was a rousing success.

Joyce DiDonato’s Adalgisa, with a cute and very modern blonde pixie haircut, was thoroughly credible, and one can easily overlook the too-quick vibrato in forte passages for the pathos, virtuosity and sheer sisterhood she shared with Ms Radvanovsky. Their unison singing, in thirds and staccati, was flawless, their timing impeccable. One believed every moment they were together.

Tenor Joseph Calleja started off brilliantly, his bright voice ringing through the house, with utter security in his opening numbers, including the oft-omitted high C. The voice seemed to fade as the first act continued, however, only to return for a blazing “In mia man”, abetted by his Norma’s fury. Bass Mathew Rose convinced as Oroveso, singing his two arias with great beauty and line. Adam Diegel’s Flavio impressed and so did Michelle Bradley’s Clotilde.

Kudos to Carlo Rizzi, who led a detailed, thrilling performance devoid of rum-tum-tum moments. If at times tempi went wildly fast, they invariably matched the dramatic situation, and, of course, he was considerate of the singers. The Met Chorus made the choral moments events in themselves – I’ve rarely enjoyed them as much, and rarely have they seemed so organic. There’s not enough praise for the orchestra.

Later in the season Angela Meade and Jamie Barton take over the leads. More thrills to come. ... ember-2017

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