Cher Public

Mitigated Gaul

A DVD/Blu-ray from C-Major preserves Kevin Newbury‘s familiar production of Bellini’s Norma with its most frequent leading lady, the American Sondra Radvanovsky

Ms. Radvanovsky, perhaps the preeminent Norma of the present day, is scheduled to open the 2017-18 Metropolitan Opera season in a new production by David McVicar, a plum that came to her when a colleague had second thoughts about taking up the role. The Blu-ray thus serves as a coming attraction, an opportunity to gauge the soprano’s progress in a role she first sang in 2011, and performed seven times at the Met in 2013.

Mr. Newbury’s production is shared by several houses and was reviewed on parterre box at the time of its San Francisco world premiere (September 2014) and subsequently in its Chicago presentation (February 2017), both times with Ms. Radvanovsky. Between these, the soprano and the production made a stop in Toronto. The video release, beautifully filmed by Jean-Pierre Loisil, comes from performances at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, February 2015.

The expectations we bring to a production or a performance can shape our reactions, and while I will not spend time here reviewing other reviews, the published commentary on Mr. Newbury’s work has been as “all over the map,” figuratively speaking, as the production has been in the literal sense. Mr. Newbury has acknowledged a debt to the television series Game of Thrones in the look of his Norma, which breaks with tradition while maintaining friendly relations with it. It evokes a primitive society without fixing a specific time or place.

The entire opera takes place in an imposing wood-and-iron shed or barn (set design by David Korins) that is both a meeting hall and Norma’s home. Armaments hang on the interior walls, and massive skeletal steer heads are mounted high up on either side. The sacred tree, freshly cut in the opera’s opening moments, is hoisted in the air to hang horizontally. The shed’s door occasionally is opened, affording us glimpses of the world beyond this stronghold, a grove with moonlit birches. A cart is wheeled in and out from time to time, and it serves as a platform for characters to mount.

Jessica Jahn‘s costumes are intentionally drab and muted for everyone except Norma, who gets two glamorous and flattering gowns in a more modern cut, one gold and one peach. The Druid characters have tribal tattoos, including dotted foreheads and faces, and the women wear thickly braided hair. Ms. Radvanovsky’s platinum wig, seen in photos from other venues and on the Blu-ray’s cover, did not make the trip to Barcelona.

Mr. Newbury, whose work was revived by R. B. Schlather for the Barcelona performances, shows a good feel for ceremony and ritual, and he knows that Norma is largely a drama of fine nuance within long stretches of stillness. He does not approach this story as though there is anything risible about it. He takes it seriously and does not risk conceptual baggage, under which this opera has sunk in the past.

The director and his design team give Bellini’s music and Romani’s words a plausible frame and leave the rest of the work to their musical colleagues. The production is neither innovative nor, in the last analysis, especially memorable, but there are arresting tableaux within which a great performance can take place. So far, so good.

There was a time when I did not believe that Ms. Radvanovsky’s voice, one of impressive size and thrust, recorded well. I have had to reconsider that view in recent years. I now believe she is one of those singers, like many before her, who must work hard to keep some things under control. Microphones can highlight imperfections of emission and pitch on a night when she is battling with the voice, but she seems to have worked through a difficult patch at the start of this decade.

Her Barcelona Norma is well recorded and admirably sung. A few shrill fortes on high notwithstanding, this is the good side of the soprano, meaning one hears the tone itself more than the process by which the tone is being produced and sustained. Consequently, one can relax into Ms. Radvanovsky’s way of guiding a line, rather than tensing up at an overload of juddering.

Ms. Radvanovsky brings cutting power to recitative, and there are many blandishing effects with soft highs, one example being the phrase “come del primo amore ai dì felici” as Norma reflects with misplaced optimism on Pollione’s return. The soprano by now has taken a difficult role’s measure, and she sings the arias and duets with breadth and at least an illusion of ease. It is a confident performance. We are never hearing a singer just hanging on, but one with resources to spare.

I do wish for clearer enunciation and the finer rhythmic points that come with it. Ms. Radvanovsky does not make much of words. Italian vowels can be odd or compromised, consonants indistinct. I also believe, and have heard demonstrated, that there is a wider palette of emotional expression in this character than one appreciates in the present performance.

Ms. Radvanovsky seems to be playing a Norma who is younger than her own 45 years at the time, with the anxious and hopeful sides better served than the volatile and commanding ones. It is a workable view, but over this long opera, it is hard to avoid an impression of monotony.

What is frustrating is that Ms. Radvanovsky pays close attention to dynamics, has the means to achieve fine gradations with them, and certainly shows that both the forceful and the florid demands of Bellini’s music are within her skill set. The role is in her throat, and if her Norma never acquires the coloring that would take it from a commendable assumption (“better than most of what we get”) to a great one for the pantheon, it will be a failing of imagination or temperament rather than one of technique or equipment.

The right Adalgisa may have helped pick the slack, and Ms. Radvanovsky has partnered with some good Adalgisas on this production’s tour. Unfortunately, whatever qualities the Moscow-born mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova may bring to operas of the Russian and German repertoire, she has a curious tendency to disappear in (rather than “into”) Italian roles.

Here, she gives the same sort of mousy needlepoint performance that she gave as Giovanna Seymour at the Met. The translation of “O ciel” is not, in fact, “Darn,” but one would think it so. Neither in sound nor in deportment does the mezzo suggest a younger rival to Norma, and the character’s scenes with both Norma and Pollione, though not badly sung, are notable dips in voltage.

A response to Raymond Aceto‘s Oroveso is may depend on whether a listener sees the character as a fourth principal or a big character part. The bass is better in his shorter interjections than in his extended pronouncements, with both solos sounding loose and underpowered.

The most satisfying performance comes from the Pollione, veteran Gregory Kunde, who was days away from his 61st birthday at the time. This is some of the best singing I have heard from the American tenor’s present Indian summer. He has the clearest words of the principals, and also the most stylistic assurance. He knows Bellini’s music well, and he knows the best ways to apply his voice in its present estate to that music’s demands. If he cannot make a full and fascinating character of the Roman proconsul loved by the two priestesses, it must be admitted that Bellini and Romani made that a tall order.

Mr. Kunde has the wisdom to take his cue from the music, and to this he brings power, stamina, masculine heat, and generosity. “Generosity” in performance is something different from eagerness to please, something rarer and grander. In this Norma we see both qualities up close, and the contrast is telling.

Renato Palumbo‘s edition includes second verses of cabalettas, and the conductor encourages embellishment of these, from both Mr. Kunde and Ms. Radvanovsky. Maestro Palumbo’s is a measured account that can become downright poky in recitatives. For the most part, he does not have the right singers to fill all the space he gives them, but he steers them well in their solos. The orchestra gives an adequate, unspectacular reading, with some distressed sounds from the principal trumpet and patches of sour tuning in the low strings. The choral work is rather better.

I should report that my ambivalence is at odds with the ovations throughout. It is apparent that most of the audience deemed this a great night (or great nights, assuming a composite) at the Liceu. Some performances “bottle” better than others, and it is possible that some you-are-there excitement from these voices as they sounded in the auditorium was lost on the video recording.

My impression was of a Norma with a few laudable things, and not much overtly wrong, but my patience was tested on two viewings. The Blu-ray’s running time of 176 minutes seemed to pass slowly. A serious mood is set for a scene, and that mood is sustained rather than developed. The subtitles tell us more of shifts in tone than the performers do. Time after time, interest sags and we just trudge along.

There are things going on in this opera between the notes, and amid the notes, not captured; the abused but pertinent word “melodrama” has not been considered. When near the end Norma sings “Qual cor tradisti, qual cor perdesti,” it is strangely rhetorical, unearned. I felt I had been told of her grandeur without its having been conveyed in the nearly three hours leading up.

Certainly, everyone involved appears to have approached Bellini’s opera with respect. The director respected it. The conductor respected it. The singers respected it. We too, watching this, can pay our respects. We can draw close, but not too close—not for fear of being burned, but because a respectful distance is what one is expected to maintain. “They really did a good job with Norma. She looks so natural.”


    When the review is more insightful and eloquent than the performance itself. Bravo Porgy

    • simonelvladtepes

      Yes, it’s an amazing review, thank you P.A. I am particularly impressed by the generosity, caution and kindness mobilized to tip-toe around saying, among other things, in essence, that Ms. Radvanovsky has poor diction, lacks the temperament, and though (theoretically) has it in her to cope with the passage work (?), she…she…and some of it is the mezzo’s fault anyway. Well, when you have to brace yourself for a shit-storm you are extra careful.


        Having seen Ms. Radvanovsky now in person I can say that, like many big voices, recording does not flatter it. Also I completely agree with P’s assessment of her singing with regards to her vowel modification. Every singer does that to some degree. It’s really about how noticeable it is. I saw this same video and found it intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying for nearly all the same reasons listed here. However, I would absolutely welcome the opportunity to see Ms. Radnavosky live in the role for she can be tremendously exciting in person.

        • simonelvladtepes

          Her problem with vowels is matched by her problem with consonants, or words in general. Her forte is her amazing breath control. She can float amazing pianos and sing with a lot of force, i.e., loud (and trill). Her generous outpourings of volume are not captured well in commercial recordings or broadcasts, and this is something particularly appreciated in a large house like the MET where good projection and power pays. However, ever since I first heard her the 2004 MET Vespri live I found her irritating live even more than in (doctored) recordings. Her tone is indeed finally beautiful in this performance, I give her credit for solving that problem.

      • Porgy Amor

        Oh, no. There was no bracing. If I had thought Ms. Radvanovsky had nothing to contribute to this role and has no business singing it, I would have said so. I don’t concern myself much with reactions. These pieces (mine and everyone else’s) get shared widely, and I’ve seen how I can go from “insightful” one week to “jaded” the next. The latter can mean nothing more than “You didn’t write the rave for the Mary Zimmerman Rusalka that I wanted to read.”

        I’m fortunate that, in a time when people who can do this better than I can are forced to limit themselves to a few hundred words, if they’re lucky enough even to still have that, because few care about the arts and fewer care about criticism of the arts, I’ve got space to work with. Anyone we can name who’s sung the title role of this opera has had things on the credit and debit sides of the ledger to be wrestled with. To ignore SR’s real strengths or her weaknesses would not be to do justice to her performance. I have my reservations, but I do not wonder why she gets hired to sing Norma, or why she has a thriving career.

        But, as you’ve seen, the aggregate here (SR, the other singers, the conducting, the production) didn’t come out to something as special as I’d hoped, and I do regret that.

        • Antikitschychick

          “Mitigated Gaul” sounds so lawyerly lol.

          Porgalicious (and well-thought out) review and follow-up comments. Thank you and kudos. I watched portions of one of those Barcelona Normas (or I may have actually seen the whole thing; I honestly can’t remember, which kind of says a lot) and I agree with everything you wrote here. The first time I started watching it, I lost interest and stopped. Unfortunately (or fortunately I guess) when it comes to opera that hardly ever happens to me, unlike with other forms of entertainment like books, shows, movies, social media etc. So its not a good sign (for me personally; doesn’t have any objective bearing).

          The reason I had a hard time getting through the performance lie you did is, I find it hard to get past some of La Rad’s limitations concerning her vocal production and the gestures she inadvertently makes, which in turn limits her physical deportment and dramatic capabilities, and more so in this role than others I think because, well it’s really fucking hard to sing.

          But because I love this opera and I also admire Lad Rad I returned to it and made myself watch it and after getting past those initial reservations, I quite enjoyed her performance. What she is able to do vocally (in terms of the power, dynamics, and all the things you mention) is truly great. One can appreciate those gifts even more hearing her live in a large theater just as you say where certain distractions one would only see up close are not noticeable.

          I won’t say much about the other singers because you’ve said pretty much what I came away thinking. Gubanova is serviceable (timid even) and not much else, Kunde definitely knows what he’s doing and is able to craft together a good performance, etc.

          Honestly I am counting down the days, hours, minutes, seconds and nanoseconds until 7 p.m. on April 27th, 2018. That will be the end and the beginning. This assuming we’re not all dead or dying from a nuclear war with North Korea or some other country that hates us.

        • As always, a pleasure, O Porgy. I saw Rad do Norma three times. It was an odd mixture of great accomplishment and total blankness of affect. Many singers of the role sing it with less confidence and compromise more with the written vocal line. But leaving aside those where the suspense was whether they’d manage to get through it at all, she was the dullest in my experience. If one takes Olivia Stapp of all people, for example, she certainly did not have Rad’s endowment or her skills but she meant everything she said. She understood every circumstance that drives the character and she conveyed that in her singing and stage behavior. One could say the same of Scotto (14 times in my experience) who did not sing all of it easily, and had some iffy evenings but didn’t miss anything.

          But my biggest surprise was how much more kindly I felt about Caballe (9 times) after Rad. As usual, everyone’s favorite Spaniard crooned, faked and belted her way through a lot of it. No words could be discerned for long periods and she sometimes looked silly — more through a lack of thought and preparation than her appearance.

          But in the last scene she suddenly plugged in. The words, not precise perhaps, were clearer, rhythms were stronger and she phrased. But also she felt everything. Norma’s false hope that Pollione will return, her fury when he doesn’t, her ferocity and then pathos in confronting him (even though she couldn’t do that rising line of trills, “adalgisa fia punita…”) were all quite vivid. She understood to take a pause and think before confessing, “son io!” And the emotional effort in doing so was powerfully conveyed. She floated her part of the subsequent duet gorgeously and with tears in the tone. And then begged her father for mercy on her children, on her knees, as though her life depended on it.

          She morphed for that twenty minutes from a mega star who mostly walked through, to an embodiment of the character and on the best of those nights was very moving.

          Rad, although she nailed all of the vocal demands far more certainly (and had done so every evening), never on any of those nights approached that connection with the emotions of the final scene. She was responsible but curiously detached.

          I thought the balance in your review, neither a fan boy’s nor a basher’s, excellently achieved. Someone curious about this performance would have an excellent idea of what it was like, and decide for themselves whether it was worth investigating. That’s something that has gone out of too much opining (for “reviewing”) in our culture, where someone is either frothing at the mouth in ecstasy or loathing, without your clearly managed detail.

          • Porgy Amor

            Thank you very much. Your “responsible but curiously detached” is an excellent description of this one, and I fear it may be where she has settled in the role. I wanted to say “small scale” too, but I didn’t, because certainly the sound is not small in scale. It’s more that the whole opera seems smaller, because there’s no sense of what’s at stake transmitted in the performance. (Yoncheva, pressed into service at the Royal Opera House last fall, conveyed much more of that, and a lot of inner life. If I were putting her Norma under the microscope I’d have to criticize some vocal things, but I’m haunted by what she did at moments, and for long stretches too. I don’t know if this is a role she’ll keep and live with.)

            While we have the topic of Caballé in Norma open, how do you feel about that Orange video with her, Veasey, Vickers, and Patané? It’s one of the classic artifacts that I buy into — very exciting, and of course there is the windstorm going on for unintended atmosphere. But I’ll admit I haven’t looked at it in years, and I’ve probably become a tougher grader.

            • I haven’t looked at it in years either, Porgy. I remember it as a good artifact for her, although (and I’m taking a risk for I haven’t watched it in a long time) some of her typical issues are there, too, as I recall. I loved Patanè, he let me sit in the pit for a number of his performances and he was truly fabulous. Absolutely nothing fazed him, he controlled orchestra and stage effortlessly and sometimes was so good psychically he DIDN’T conduct just trusted the orchestra to do a section (and they did, they did!). And, Jon Vickers!!! I didn’t see Caballe with him. John Alexander was terrific but not on that scale, then there was her husband, and I saw her with Cecchele, too, and he wasn’t bad.

              Thanks to you, I listened to Bartoli again last night and loved it (some will curse poor old Mrs. Claggart!) but that is so different, of course. I was thinking tonight of listening to Cigna at the Met but maybe I’ll watch La señora instead!!!

            • Luvtennis

              Great review, Porgy!

              I think the acoustic of the famous Orange recording is incredibly singer-friendly -- everybody sounds huge and gorgeous. Of course, that may just be the recording (perhaps the broadcast engineers compensating for the wind?). Anyone know if the recording accurately capture the acoustics of the performing space there?

              And yes, she sounds extraordinary there -- still the occasional mumble (or is it a memory lapse) -- much better than any other recorded artifact of her in the role that I have heard. She is much more attentive to the music, and doesn’t slur the runs or turns, and is really inspired dramatically. Perhaps singing with Jon Vickers, who might literally have strangled her, scared her straight! ????

            • Porgy Amor

              That’s what I remember, Luvt — a lot more consistently “awake” musically than in most of her documented live work, and with a very firm presence in the drama. Everyone’s performance has that special-night charge to it, as if what is happening on the stage is more than what was planned or expected. Patanè is heroic, in the circumstances. And, yes, the acoustic adds something, and even the things that could be negatives become positives (high winds, low lighting, a slightly smeary look).

              I’ll have to set aside a few hours to watch the whole thing again; I probably haven’t in more than ten years. It was something I saw early on, and then I had to discover that it was out of the ordinary for Caballé. She would often sound similarly beautiful, but…

  • Liz.S

    Thank you -- wonderful review as always!

    Gregory Kunde, who was days away from his 61st birthday at the time. This is some of the best singing I have heard from the American tenor’s present Indian summer

    I remember Stabat Mater a couple of years ago -- thinking it could be the last time I was listening to him before his retirement -- I was soooo wrong! :D
    I had no idea he would start singing heavier roles like Pollione, Otello, Manrico, etc. Remarkable transformation at this stage of his career.

  • Camille

    Very intelligent remarks to be found in this review. A clear perception.

    Gubanova is such a fine singer in Wagner (I am not familiar with her Russian roles, unfortunately) that one wonders WHY, exactly, she strays from them into these not altogether bad but wholly unsatisfying forays in fioriture. I found her Giovanna Seymour a trial and utterly unrelated to the excellent singing of the Walküre Fricka I’d heard her previously perform. The Amneris fared a bit better, I guess, but strictly avoiding her performances in these belcanto roles in future.

    I would say that the Oroveso in this would be a decided improvement over the one heard at the Met a few years back, and that this fellow is not without merit but more a supporting player type. Mr Kunde, I’ve really never heard much from nor have followed, other than that solitary webcast of L’Africaine from Teatro la Fenice a couple years ago, and would have to reconsider and get to know his singing. It’s nice to hear he fares well
    in this, for me, rather two dimensional role. I find his late career development quite remarkable and more power to him!

    About the Norma--well, at least she’s not a Normina, as we have had that of late, as well. Much to-do has been made about Radvanovsky’s pronunciation/enunciation/diction and I have this to say: she is not a native speaker, neither has she lived in Italy, and she sings the way many another American opera sings--with their “technique” married to the pasted on appropriate foreign words, or at least that’s how it sounds to me,
    and she is FAR from the only one to do so. And add to this her problematical vocal emission--which she has succesfully dominated and controls up to a certain valid point now--and part of that control calls for her own particular brand of Italian. It is rigid, fixed, and always in service to the technique of the vocal emission, and that’s how it IS! She will NEVER sound like a native born singer- Renata, Anita, Maria was a resident there --as she isn’t one and she copes the BEST she can with a large and unruly vibrato, once a thundering judder and now, well more or less, bridled. More power to her, too. As to her imaginative creative role play, well, I don’t know about that in this production as I’ve not seen it yet and am unlikely to, but why don’t we wait to see what this new production comes up with, and within which she will likely have a great deal more input, I would guess, than the one she inherited previously from poor Jane Eaglen, so hopeless on opening night in that production--talk about a lack of imagination. I can still see her facing the audience at the curtain,
    palms upraised, and with a shrug, as if to say “what the hell do you picky NewYawkers want from me? It was Good Enuf for Seattle…”

    There IS no ideal Norma except that one ideal diva in the Theatre of One’s Own Imagination, and, of course, M.C. And no, that’s not Mariah Carey, although with her range of head tones she could possibly sing it, AND Casta Diva in the key of G.
    Now there’s a thought.

    • Porgy Amor

      Gubanova is such a fine singer in Wagner (I am not familiar with her Russian roles, unfortunately)

      When I saw her as Olga in Onegin (a production with Samuil, Mattei, Kaiser, and Furlanetto), I felt she was a different singer. Of course, that role fades out halfway through, but she was charming and lively with it. She was once a Marina Mniszech with some temperament as well. But she may, like some Russian singers before her, not have a strong interest in the native repertoire, or may see better opportunities in other music. In any case, it’s been a relatively small part of her international career.

      • Camille

        Yes, exactly, as if she were another singer.

        I was so puzzled by her Giovanna as I kept recalling her Fricka, which was just cut from an entirely different swath of cloth. While it is all very well she is able to make her voice flexible enough to cope with the Italian stuff, it is nothing I ever care to hear again. In the case of the Anna Bolena it was also the keen disappointment in the loss of Garanca factoring into it, as EG made a truly formidable and far likelier antagonist to Anna’s Anna, so effective in the Viennese version.

        She might be fun as Marina Mz. as well. That role takes a lot of pizazz but after my fave Olga the Great, it would take a bombshell to impress me in that role.

    • Fernando Balliache

      Love your post

  • Thanks for another great review, Porgy. I’ve seen this production live and it does the job without doing anything special. I think you’ve captured it nicely.

    I also think you’ve given a fair assessment of Radvanovksy’s Norma. I will say that hearing her live is a different experience than hearing her on recording. I agree that her weak points are her enunciation (though Netrebko, whom she’ll be replacing in the new Met production is no better in that regard) and her phrasing of fast passages. She gets the fioratura mostly right but she moves through the notes instead of shaping them. And temperamentally, she’s not the most memorable Norma.

    People talk about her great breath control, but mostly in terms her control of volume. I think that the greatest dividend of her breath control is her phrasing and the way she commands long passages. For a singer of only limited grandeur, her phrasing of the big Bellini line is where she exhibits her greatest grandeur. And that is the greatest pleasure I take from her Norma (or other bel canto work).

  • Armerjacquino

    How to write about a performance you’ve not fully enjoyed, right there. Not letting anyone off the hook, but stating the case against them with grace and empathy. Bravo.

    • Antikitschychick

      belated congrats on getting married! All the best to you and your partner :-).

  • Niel Rishoi

    Reading this excellent, keen, and expansive review, and the equally excellent feedback, I feel a bit vindicated.

    I first heard Radvanovsky’s Norma some half-dozen years ago on a pirate recording, her first, from Oviedo.

    I was startled at how much *promise* it had. I reported on it quite enthusiastically on another opera site, and thought she had what it took to be the leading Norma of her generation.

    A few years ago, I heard 4 more Normas from her, including this video, the first one I saw of her in a visual representation. All within the span of about a year and a half, maybe a bit more than that.

    The startling factor for these 4 performances is how consistent she was; all 4, from different venues, sounded almost exactly alike, down to the last detailed bits of phrasing and musical/textual effects.

    What intrigued me is that she actually sounded more involved in the Oviedo performance. Involved in the sense that nerves and anxiousness to do well at the outset, so that there was more alertness and life.

    After that, though, it sounded as if Radvanovsky “froze” her interpretation in place.

    This tells me much about her consistency, but little about her imagination -- and chary in her willingness to hop out of the freezer and evolve in her interpretation and go beyond the paint-by-numbers approach.

    No, a safe route was instead subsequently taken, kept in a placid, remote zone where all danger and intrigue was avoided. This video performance merely confirmed that she preferred to coast carefully in the role, rarely responding from her heart and soul to bring something indelible, personal, and vivid to one of the greatest soprano protagonists in the operatic repertoire. Never does one have the feeling that something is at stake, that there is a highly charged emotional drama taking place.

    Everything is at a moderate, lukewarm level, the temperament muted and earnest; it’s narcotizing, where it should be electric and bracing, pulling the spectator in -- making one “weep, shudder and die through the singing,” as Bellini once said, of what opera must do.

    What confounded me is why was one of the most prodigious voices in her generation stubbornly remaining, in this role, a non-event? Those successfully essaying Norma create an indelible association with her, with a sense of fulfillment lingering long after the performance has ended.

    Everywhere though, I kept reading raves -- to the extent of Radvanovsky’s being pegged as the successor in the role to Ponselle, Callas and Sutherland. Opera lists had people swooning with encomiums, and holding forth with very high praise.

    I had even begun to wonder if the opera itself had begun to bore me. It is my most-studied opera (I did a survey of all the complete recordings documented until the end of the last century for a Bellini Commemorative Issue of an opera publication), and maybe I had heard too much of it.

    I can think now, of attributes in which Radvanovsky could be said to best her predecessors I reviewed in that survey: More flexible and correct than Cigna and Milanov, more secure and stable of voice than Callas, better cantabile legato and diction than Sutherland, better schooled than Suliotis, more precise and wide-ranging than Caballé, more ample of tone than Sills, more stable of vocalization than Scotto, more appropriate than Maria Bieshu, and more consistent than Jane Eaglen.

    So what the hell, then? She *should* conceivably be better than all of them, no question.

    What Radvanovsky lacks, though, is an indelibly special artistic profile. All of the ladies mentioned, despite any drawbacks, did something unique, memorable, and very personal with what they had. Personality, individuality, and showmanship. Establishing who they were, recognizably, from the first note.

    Radvanovsky resides in a gauzy comfort zone, hitting all her marks professionally, dutifully, securely, but never pushing the boundaries past a certain point of musical and emotional fervor, as the role requires.

    Her diction and pronunciation, which comes and goes and in fits and starts, compounds the moist-towelette-temperature problem; but the main drawback feature of her singing, to my ears, is her timbrally unvaried, pillowy tonal production.

    It’s not pingy and resonant, but soft grained, laryngeal, and low, rather throaty. When she pushes for dramatic effect, or goes into the highest regions of her range, the vibrato accelerates, and the tonal output, lacking space and ideal projection room, becomes hard and constricted. Her best moments are in the purely lyrical sections where that softness is so optimal and ideal. Radvanovsky does in fact create some magical effects in phrases in the most congenial area of her voice.

    I wish she would take a month’s study with someone like Muti, with a top voice teacher alongside him, to maximize her vast potential. Get the variety of vocal textures in there. Work on the textual aspects, making her feel and project the character from within.

    Because; no other soprano in the last several decades has THIS CLOSE to all the factors the role calls for.

    I’m not kidding. Radvanovsky has it in her to be the Norma of this age.

    That she isn’t amounts to a feeling of distinctly modified rapture.