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Before her all Rome trembled

A sneak preview of Cecilia Bartoli’s new recording of Norma may be found on the website of The Guardian.


  • 21
    Cocky Kurwenal says:

    This isn’t the first period instrument Norma, of course -- those of you who like the period instrument take on it might well enjoy Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante, with the more conventional line up of June Anderson, Daniela Barcellona and Ilda Abdrazakov.

  • 22
    zinka says:

    OI VEY..I just called Gina Cigna (slightly long distance0 and played the Casta Diva with this “arty-farty” interpolations and the just awful machine-gun coluratura in the cabaletta. Gina called Ponselle, Milanov, Callas, and Olive Middleton to the phone and they all said..”Good i am dead!!” It is a mess. Really an example of how to be artsy-fartsy and in person she might be audible in my closet (which i have left open)
    Sadly,the name will sell..but it is a vergogna….

    • 22.1
      Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      With all love and respect for your conference call, the efforts of Bartoli and co. should be applauded. I think that Sumi Jo is the major defect in this exciting new project. A soprano with more beauty in her voice would have contrasted in a much better way with what Bartoli is doing. In may ways, this new Norma recording is a keeper.

  • 23
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    I’m also guessing that the few strange variations in tempi BETWEEN certain tracks is due to the fact that maestro has not had much experience in the theater and time was just too short to go back and make the corrections. A more experienced opera conductor would have been very focused on that when multiple takes are involved. I also wish that Bartoli could have coached Polione in the declamation of certain phrases in Italian that would have been more favorable for him if her were more Italianate.

    • 23.1
      luvtennis says:


      I love you to death (figuratively) but I just cannot get my head around your praise of Bartoli’s voice. I can get liking the recording as a whole given the apparently sincere attempt to restore the score to something resembling its original state. What I can’t get is how you hear La Bartoli’s voice as anything other than a dreadful mess.

      Not trying to be provocative, just really curious about the incredibly different reaction you had to the performance.

      • 23.1.1
        Quanto Painy Fakor says:

        It is difficult to explain without giving you phrase by phrase illustrations and I really don’t have time for that. She is always at her worst when she starts to kackle -- she’s done that since the beginning of her career, exacerbated by her neurotic movements in her Rossini, Porpora and Vivaldi escapades. To my ear she has analyzed the most memorable phrases that Callas made her own and has found ways to fulfill those moments by manipulating her own tessitura. It’s really quite masterfully done. The majority of her embellishments are beautiful, interesting and well-placed (spoiled in the duets by the grating sound of Sumi Jo trying to match Bartoli in the thirds and sixths). I would like to know the source of the melody she sings what is called the maggiore section after the Guerra, Guerra Chorus, which is quite different in this recording. Her Fiordiligi, Fiorilla, and Flotow were valuable preparations for her to tackle Norma in technical terms. It’s a very personal interpretation that shows a very in depth study of what she was trying to convey -for the most part it works surprisingly well. Listen again for your favorite Callas moments and see how La Bartoli has translated them on her own terms. Other sopranos either fail to meet the challenges or are incapable of it. Bartoli devserves an A+ for her invention. There is also a great sense of her having brought this project to fruition. In recordings not everyone is called to attend all sessions and the Bartoli solo work is much different that the ensemble takes. I wonder how much if any of this recording was tracked (voices added) in post production. I only listened to the complete performance ones but went back to replay the act I trio several times to try to appreciate the restored balance of the phrases in the uncut version. In retrospect it also reveals why the decisions that shaped the traditional version were made. For those who have studied every note of the score at one time or another this performance also provides several chuckles -- not in mockery but in appreciate of what they went through to make their recorded performance. Musically, I predict that will be an enormous success this summer in the theater as long as the visuals don’t make a big joke out of everything.

          Noel Dahling says:

          I love her too and the funny thing about this recording (of a ‘soprano’ role, after all) is how dark and rich her voice is, which recalls her earliest recordings. Some have pointed out that in recent years her voice has become more “sopranoish”, more silvery and brighter as she sang higher stuff, but her voice here sounds like a bit of a throwback to earlier years.

          perfidia says:

          I just don’t hear an adaptation of what Callas did in this recording. Callas’ singing of Bellini, especially Norma, has a sense of repose, a cleanliness of line that Bartoli just doesn’t have, unless she is faking it with all that crooning. Even when Callas’ voice was a wreck in those Paris Normas, you can still get the approach. Another wrecked voice who gives you a great sense of Bellini’s marvelous melancholy is Patti’s recording of Ah non credea. The way she colors her voice… And a lot of the music in the Bartoli recording is taken at such a clip as to sound like a comic opera. I’m all for a lighter approach, and the recording has some good points, but Bartoli is just not successful, even if you can’t deny the seriousness of her preparation. I’m sorry, but Bartoli sounds neurasthenic in this.

          • Batty Masetto says:

            I agree, Perfidia. One of the most astonishing aspects of Callas’ interpretation is the way she distills her understanding and technique down into an extreme simplicity that has almost the directness of speech. Listen to how much emotional complexity this lets her convey in just a few notes at “tu m’odi” and “son madre” (and by the way, Rossi-Lemeni is no slouch at this business, either). Even the high B on “di lor pietà” is not about the high note, but about the urgency of getting Oroveso to hear her and agree.

            It’s an artfulness that seems so natural and spontaneous that it makes practically everybody else seem self-conscious and calculating. Yet it’s completely controlled; she does exactly the same things in the later recording with Corelli and Ludwig, though the voice is less cooperative. I’m in no position to do a bar-by-bar comparison, but to me Bartoli’s approach is completely different.

  • 24
    Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

    To respond to a much earlier post, the arte cable channel in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France usually does a delayed telecast of the Salzburger Pfingstenfestspiele opening night opera right after the performance (as they did with “Giulio Cesare in Egito” last year). So far, I can’t find a listing for it, but it may be taped for later broadcast. I also checked ORF TV and radio and can’t find anything (they are broadcasting the Met “Giulio Cesare” from April as Saturday night’s opera). I’ll be attending on Sunday (Kirov Ballet at 15:00, “Norma” at 19:00) and can find out more details then.

    I just got the proofs of the program from Salzburg and in an interview Bartoli says the highlights of the new edition for her are the complete Act I trio which gives Adalgisa more to do, the complete “Guerra, guerra” chorus, and the fact that there are no cuts from the Urtext.

    I am looking forward to sitting down and taking in an essay of about ten pages by the men who made the new critical edition. I am very curious about this.

    Unfortunately, there are some production photos and it seems to be set in a crumbling white room and is yet another trench coat and frumpy house dress affair. Nice real flames at the end, with Norma and Pollione tied to chairs and left to roast. I’m kind of sorry I looked at the photos.

    I am going to try and ignore the preview of the commercial recording. I’d much rather be surprised when I hear it live. I will try and follow up after the show when I get home on Monday, but you will probably already have gotten comments after the prima on Friday.


    • 24.1
      mjmacmtenor says:

      I don’t know about live performances, but the full trio and the complete Guerra chorus have been included in previous recordings (with more traditional casting and musical approach)

    • 24.2
      Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      Please let us know if there is a PDF file of those essays available.

      • 24.2.1
        Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

        It was sent to me as a 70-some page PDF file by e-mail, so I could only get it to you by e-mail. I assume there is no way to initiate private communication on this site, so sorry, unless you want to post an e-mail address to which I could send it.

          Quanto Painy Fakor says:

          Could you possibly upload it to, or any of the free file sharing site and post the URL for people to download it? That would be so great. Or maybe send the PDF to La Cieca and she could do it for us in any number of ways. Many thanks in advance.

    • 24.3
      willym says:

      Jungfer -- I’m with you on the photos. I’m not sure, given the production team, what I was expecting but it all looks a bit desperate housewivey. I have tickets for the Prima and the Kirov on Sunday. I can’t believe how tightly packed the schedule for this year’s Festival is, almost no breathing time between performances. Do you have tickets for anything else?

      • 24.3.1
        Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

        Lieber Willym -- Unfortunately no. I have a busy week and must also go to Graz the following Friday for the new Calixto Bieito “Mahagonny” so two shows in one day is enough for me!

      • 24.3.2
        Camille says:

        Willym!! I am so anxiously awaiting your thoughts on the Bartoli Norma production. Are you writing it as a part of your blog and will you provide a link or do you plan to just jot a few notes here? Perhaps you are still thinking it through.


  • 25
    marshiemarkII says:

    I just listened to the Deh non volerli vittime, and I am still recovering, I was aghast! they call that singing? the voice has absolutely NO core, hence she cannot keep the musical line! this is the very definition of having NOT ENOUGH voice for the role, she simply cannot feel the line. All that convoluted pianissimi, haphazard, willfull and nothing to do with the music, when she finally hits a high not forte we know why she is singing pianisimo, there is no voice there, but just a hard wobble. This is disgraceful! and hard to believe people would even take it seriously. I saw her in a Carnegie recital in what, 94 or 95, and she did the same thing with the sublime Sposa son disprezzata, just a collection of disjointed pianisimi when once Caballe had spun an endless musical line that was what they play in heaven. This is truly what in the old days was called FILTH!!!!!!!pure and simple.

    Of course I wouldn’t bother to listen to the rest. I can hardly imagine how despicable must be the aspirated coloratura and the fantastic Cs and Ds. Talk about an opera requires a D-flat queen :-)

    • 25.1
      marshiemarkII says:

      she simply cannot FILL the line, ugggh

      And the old discussion, it is NOT The SIZE of the voice, but the quantity of voice to fill any given line. With the Decca microphones it would be hard to measure the size of the voice to begin with. But FILLING The line is certainly measurable and judge-able on stage or on the mikes.

    • 25.2
      marshiemarkII says:

      Elinor Ross where are you?

      • 25.2.1
        la vociaccia says:

        Ahhh Marshie you invoke my dream norma, La Ross Grandissima who ravishes the lines of deh non volerli with enough overtones to fill ten halls. If I weren’t on my phone I would hijack this thread with Ross and Giovanna Vighi (la enigma!!! Who is that HUGE Adalgisa???)

          marshiemarkII says:

          I know Vochi, doesn’t it suck when you are on the phone, and you want to get campy on parterre but the phone is so limited. God knows I make enough mistakes/typos with a full keyboard, on the phone I’d be a disaster for more than two lines. But you can do it when you get home Vochi! Yes Ross is pretty camp with that HUGE sound. But I insist it is not the size of the voice. This girl has simply no vocal line, just disjointed pianissimi, assoluta vergogna!

      • 25.2.2
        la vociaccia says:

        Lei è qui!

        BTW, Thank you Thank you Thank you Coloraturafan/Deviafan/Mr. tank-top (fans self) for introducing me (and a whole lot of other people) to this Norma recording.

        Fun fact: Elinor Ross and Roberta Peters were in the same vocal studio when they were teenagers!

    • 25.3
      pasavant says:

      Thank you for expressing so clearly what I hear when she sings.

      • 25.3.1
        pasavant says:

        My comment was directed to Marshiemark’s critique of Bartoli’s singing.

      • 25.3.2
        marshiemarkII says:

        Well pasavant, mille grazie, I just try to tell it like I hear it :-)
        Monty, long time ol’ boy!

  • 26
    luvtennis says:

    Bartoli’s voice sounds as ruined as Pasta’s on the day that Viardot wrote her famous observation. Except Bartoli never possessed a truly ‘great instrument.’ Now it’s not even an instrument. It is a collection of random notes, mannerisms and noises.

    She croons the soft stuff and the hard loud fortes are shouts and shrieks and dodges.

  • 27
    Batty Masetto says:

    This is not at all difficult to play if you have prehensile toes.

    A happy “Norma”l birthday to La Cieca.

  • 28
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    The full Eleanor:

    • 28.1
      la vociaccia says:

      DId I mention I fricking LOVE this woman’s voice? And I love the stories of her and Callas, with Maria making sure Ross didn’t go on after she cancelled the last Dallas performance.

  • 29
    pobrediablo says:

    Here’s another “big gal” Norma. Certainly not an ideal one but very fulfilled in Teneri figli and the last scene.

  • 30
    willym says:

    I’m attending tomorrow night’s opening and decided to avoid the recording and almost wish I’d avoided the comments. Sorry I don’t meant that as an insult -- they are all interesting but as always where Bartoli is concerned they are at extreme ends of the pole. Its been a while since I’ve heard her live so I don’t really know the current state of her voice outside the recording studio. The Haus für Mozart is a small venue but I’ve always found a rather dry one which may well have an impact on the performance. Whatever the result its sure to be an interesting evening.

    My first -- and last -- live Norma was the Caballe-Vickers-Veasey at Orange so again we’re talking two extreme ends of the pole -- big venue, big voices vs small venue, smaller voices. Again that word “interesting” springs to mind. Though I’m not sure interesting is what you look for in Norma.

    “Interesting” as well is that the Festival ends with a Bartoli-Pape-Barenbhoim Brahm’s Requiem.

    • 30.1
      Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

      Willym, I am in total agreement about the Haus für Mozart! I hate both the acoustics and the sight-lines (I have only ever sat in Parkett, but even from the 7th or 8th row the view is obstructed because the floor doesn’t slope at a sufficient angle, so there are always heads in the way).

      I most recently heard Bartoli in “Le comte Ory” at Theater an der Wien in February and she sounded spectacular (despite that she cancelled the first three performances), and that is a 1,000-seat house with slightly dry acoustics (but I was also in the 3rd row). The coloratura sounded smoother than it has in the past and the bottom register seems to be darkening naturally and sounded less forced.

      Since we are comparing, my first “Norma” was the Met December 1970 broadcast with Sutherland and Horne. I also went to almost every Caballé Met “Norma” -- with Cossotto the first year and Verrett the next.

      The most recent time I have seen it staged (I heard Gruberova swoop, gargle and shriek her way through it in concert at Wiener Staatsoper) was an absolutely brilliant production from Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito in Stuttgart with Catherine Naglestad, who was spectacular.

  • 31
    Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

    To everyone who asked if Bartoli’s Salzburg “Norma” will be broadcast, I just received confirmation from the festival that it is NOT being broadcast or recorded for radio or television.

    Maybe this has something to do with the fact that Decca is releasing the recording in Germany and Austria tomorrow (17 May) so they can hawk it at the festival, and in the UK on Monday (release in the USA is scheduled for 11 June).

    This doesn’t rule out that there may be a radio broadcast (likely ORF) when she repeats it at the regular summer Salzburger Festspiele for five performances between 17 and 30 August. But with Universal Music’s strong presence, that might not happen, either, as it would ostensibly cut into CD sales.

  • 32
  • 33
    luvtennis says:

    Why do I feel in the presence of Decca marketers desperate to justify their existence as the market for classical CDs dries up. Bartholdi has been one of the few to sell records. Now bocelli and Bartholi are near done and there is nothing coming after as far as anyone can see.

    No disrespect but the length and similarity of the opinions offered are striking to me. I know I am probably being terribly rude, and apologies for that.

    • 33.1
      Nerva Nelli says:

      “Bartholdi has been one of the few to sell records.”

      Felix? Fanny?

    • 33.2
      la vociaccia says:

      Never fear, luvtennis. There’s still one “vibrant young tenor” who has yet to complete the remaining four of his five-CD Decca contract…..

    • 33.3
      armerjacquino says:

      I quite liked this NORMA. I found it interesting.

      I don’t work for Decca.

      • 33.3.1
        luvtennis says:

        You also didn’t write a seven paragraph analysis of the recording emphasizing the Italianate qualities of a singer who distorts vowels sound, drops consonants and often sounds like she is about to have an apoplectic fit on any music that tests her upper register.

      • 33.3.2
        kashania says:

        I found it interesting.

        Me too. It put to mind the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times!” ;)

  • 34

    There’s one more thing reg Bartoli as Norma, which is rather a private concept and possibly more difficult to elaborate on. I see the role as a combination of steely exterior and melting vulnerability internally. There’s is nothing in Bartoli’s persona, way of singing or temperament to suggest this complicated personality. When she goes ‘steely’ as Norma she just sounds pissed off. It’s simply not convincing. Not just technically / vocally, but as an impersonation.

    • 34.1
      luvtennis says:


      I think Norma must come across as noble even when provoked. Otherwise, the sacrifice at the end makes no sense.

      Bartholdi sounds coarse and vulgar in her anger. It cheapens the role. Tragedy sinks to mere melodrama. Bartoli mistakes theatrics for drama and real emotion.

      Sort of like Sills did at times.

  • 35
    -Ed. says:

    Why does a car horn sound at 2:29 of this Sutherland/Horne recording of Mira o Norma? It has caused me to wrench my neck on several sleepy occasions. I should sue.

    As for Bartoli.. she has recorded so many slices of perfection, she has my leave to do whatever she wants. But I prolly won’t buy her Norma.