Cher Public

Better call Gaul

“Is this what they call a ‘textured’ performance?”

A gnawing sense of déja vu kept invading my thoughts during the second half of Bellini’s Norma Monday evening: I was reminded of the Met’s Opening Night two years ago when the audience got a new dark, dull Otello that didn’t at all improve on the production it was replacing. 

As it does with Bartlett Sher who directed the Verdi, the house inexplicably returns again and again to Sir David McVicar; Norma was his seventh lackluster Met production in eight years, a possible eighth—Puccini’s Tosca—opens on New Year’s Eve and there’s at least one more is in the pipeline. Despite the best efforts of Sondra Radvanovsky and Carlo Rizzi, Bellini’s masterpiece under his “guidance” gallingly fizzled rather than flamed.

One searched in vain for a distinctive directorial point of view on the travails of a woman who is clearly having trouble balancing her public and private lives. Unfortunately, McVicar frequently undercut Norma’s role as priestess; at her entrance she immediately rolled onto her back with arms outstretched (to the moon?) on a platform lodged in a massive tree that dominated a tableau that reminded some of either the old Met Rusalka or its new Falstaff.

She delivered her scorching initial recitative and the first verse of “Casta diva” while kneeling and only rose to her feet for the second; then for much of the repeat of its cabaletta she cowered in an odd crawlspace under the platform.

During the alternately vehement and regretful final scene, Norma in a flat, bad perm declared war and then embraced immolation while barefoot in a shapeless black off-the-shoulder frock—hardly what one imagines for one of opera’s grandest heroines. But Adalgisa, her nemesis/boon-companion, had it even worse: she mostly stumbled around in Moritz Junge’s anonymous sackcloth garment which provocatively bared even more shoulder— was this standard dress for the local vestal virgins?

If any aspect of McVicar’s production could be termed revisionist it was his view of Adalgisa who was initially seen as Norma’s brightly-lit deacon handing her the sickle with which she sliced off the mistletoe branch. Once in private the junior priestess became a quivering, guilt-ridden mess who delivered her prayer on her stomach flat on the ground.

In fact Adalgisa figured prominently in one of the worst facets of McVicar’s production: his bizarre tendency to create movements that cruelly distracted from the principal action. After the public rite as Norma wished for Pollione’s return in “Ah bello a me ritorna,” Adalgisa prostrated herself in prayer at the front of the other side of the stage. While the two women bonded in “Mira o Norma” Clotilde fussed with the two children directly behind them.

Throughout the sublime “Qual cor tradisti” in the final scene, burly extras methodically carried in planks to be used for the pyre in the upcoming conflagration. When Norma and Pollione walked toward an unfrightening fire leftover from a budget tour of Die Walküre, all eyes instead trained on Adalgisa who entered to kneel in anguished prayer yet again. Admittedly Norma can be a very static work, but last night even when there were no distractions, the blocking had little focus or intensity. In the explosive ensemble that ends the first act, the three performers just blandly crisscrossed the stage to little effect.

That Radvanovsky proved to be a notable Norma was all the more impressive as the production often hindered rather than helped her. She has clearly continued to work hard on the role since her first promising Met appearances in 2013. Her involvement in the Donizetti Tudor Queen trilogy two seasons ago perhaps showcased her growing bel canto credentials more persuasively than this Norma however.

Initially best known for her ringing if harsh power she now sings with more care and nuance, yet on many occasions when she fined down her tone to the merest thread of a pianissimo it came across as an “effect” rather than something that arose organically from the vocal line.

The opening “Sediziose voci” was forthrightly declaimed and “Casta diva” finely spun although she and Rizzi weren’t always in agreement during the final pages which in any case rarely come together as smoothly as one would like. The cabaletta unfortunately proved screamy and effortful, the awkward ornaments subtracting rather than adding to the piece’s urgency.

The first duet with Adalgisa however found her in better form, dreamy and sympathetic, but Pollione’s appearance revealed the flaws in her florid singing with “Oh non tremare” marred by smudged coloratura. Things got a bit hectic in the subsequent finale but she capped it with a brief but blazing high D.

The crucial recitative at the beginning of the second act was intelligently done although the consistently unilluminating lighting by Paule Constable failed to reveal the important stage business with the knife at the altar/utensil drawer at the forward right corner of Norma’s impressively large timbered yurt. Radvanovsky’s finest singing came in the final scene although the demanding opening pages of the “In mia mano” duet taxed her lower register and those thrilling rising trills in “Adalgisa fia punita” were blurs.

However, she pled both “Qual cor tradisti” and “Deh! Non volerli vittime” gorgeously with the pianissimi at last finely integrated into the vocal line. She demonstrated impressive pacing and stamina sounding nearly as fresh at the end as in the opening moments.

One of the greatest improvements since the 2013 performances revealed itself in Radvanovsky’s marked investment in Romani’s text. Many times in the past one saluted her vocal achievements while bemoaning her apparent lack of interest in the words she was singing. While occasionally one wanted still crisper, more incisive diction, she demonstrated enormous advances particularly in the many crucial recitatives.

If, in the long run, she may have lacked the ideal gravitas of the greatest Normas, but I imagine few in the audience were regretting Anna Netrebko’s withdrawal as surely the Russian diva’s agreeing to take on the role was the original raison d’être for this production.

Joseph Calleja has never been a compelling stage presence but his Pollione was even more stiff and aloof than may have been intended. His preening demeanor in the opening scena did little to endear one to this serial seducer. The callously brutal “seduction” of Adalgisa did illuminate his feckless disregard for the women in his life. Pollione’s turn-around in the opera’s final moments has always been pretty hard to swallow but Calleja’s stolid acting didn’t help.

That said, his trademark idiosyncratic tenor generally rang out with confidence and occasional attention to softer dynamics though he nearly came to grief in his cabaletta which was (fortunately?) shorn of its repeat. He also dropped out for a surprising number of measures before his weak final high note concluded that scene.

I usually just want Oroveso’s music to be over, but Matthew Rose, the youngest of the four principals, made something interesting of the Druid chief’s music which opens the first and final scenes of the opera. Not having the rounded rotund bass sound that one often gets in the role, he instead brought an appealingly youthful vigor to his stern pronouncements yet melted accordingly to Norma’s irresistible pleadings. Adam Diegel’s sour and strained Flavio was not an asset but Michelle Bradley’s sumptuous, sympathetic Clotilde grabbed one’s attention at her every appearance.

Enacting McVicar’s wildly neurasthenic Adalgisa with unwavering commitment, DiDonato was nonetheless cruelly miscast. If many passages exhibited a noble, sculpted beauty, the top of the voice has become increasingly unreliable and any excursion to the top of the staff or above was tight, white and usually sharp. She ducked the high C in the first duet with a finessed alternative that still went awry and even with “Mira o Norma’ down a whole tone it strained her badly turning one of the work’s sure-fire high points into a disappointing misfire.

Rizzi who had conducted the premiere of the previous Met production in 2001 returned with a vigorous and expansive reading. After an understandably unidiomatic (but protest-less) National Anthem, his splendidly alert “Sinfonia” got the evening off to a promising if very late start. My biggest reservation was an extremely slow rendition of the first Norma-Adalgisa duet that nearly fell apart.

He was vividly seconded by Donald Palumbo’s fine chorus in fiery, brazen form for the war-mongering but which coped less successfully with more prayerful moments. The laughable galumphing about by a group of “dancers” particularly in the final scene was presumably the responsibility of “Movement Director” Leah Hausman.

Norma was an early enthusiasm of mine but now has become an opera I respect more than love. The near superhuman demands of the title role which were finely examined in a recent piece in The New York Times by Parterre’s own James Jorden suggest that an entirely satisfying performance of the opera might be a near-impossibility.

So if Radvanovsky fell short in some ways, it was still a valiant often successful portrayal. McVicar’s impersonal, insight-free production must bear much of the blame that the cumulative effect of this new Norma was far from the catharsis of “pity and fear” Bellini and Romani surely intended.

Radvanovsky sings just four more performances including an HD transmission on October 7th and viewers will no doubt make up their own minds as to how she stacks up with past greats. I, for one, am curious as to how other singers this season will fare in the two crucial female roles—next up, Marina Rebeka followed by Angela Meade as Norma with Jamie Barton as Adalgisa.

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera




  • Christopher, thanks for this fine review which I enjoyed more than Tomassini’s. I skimmed through the comments in the chat last night and I gather it was not a success over the internet stream, save for the final scene. I’m not surprised that Rad delivered her best work at that point.

    I’m a fan but, like a few others, I think she should focus on Verdi. I only heard a couple of snippets towards the end but I did hear her in person last season in Toronto. She’s made some game attempts at bel canto over the years and had some very good success. But the voice is less flexible than before, so the fast passages, which were never her strength, are weaker than before. And recitative has never been her strength and there’s a lot of that in bel canto (though I do appreciate your observation that she was more attentive to the text last night).

    Verdi sits very comfortably in her voice and plays to her strengths as a musician. I feel that if she keeps taking on bel canto heroines, it will just be a case of diminishing returns.

    When I reviewed JJD’s War & Peace album, I found her at her peak artistically but with a top that was going. And unfortunately, she hasn’t gained at the bottom of the voice what she has lost at the top. Perhaps more Baroque opera is the answer for her. A lof the mezzo roles she used to sing expose the top too much.

    Skimming through the chat, I was delighted to read about the restoration of the cuts to the score. I can’t believe they even gave Adalgisa her own verse in the Act I trio.

  • Daniel Swick

    I worried that this would be a misstep for JDD. She does not have a large voice and the Met has always seemed too big for her. Hearing her last year, I noticed the top was fine as long as no pressure was applied. She was singing a bunch of baroque music in a small hall here in Kansas City and she still used mics which seemed odd to me. She’s a very smart and focused singer but I didn’t find her riveting or all that interesting. She’s the definition of a Midwestern opera diva: smart, earnest, disciplined and ultimately a little boring.
    It’s in her masterclasses that I see a vibrant personality come out. She’s brilliant with young singers!

    • ER

      Daniel I was in the house last night and while I do have mixed feelings about JDD, her voice was pretty large.

      And I agree with the reviewer, Radvanovsky’s portrayal and attention to the text has definitely grown since her earlier MET outing. From a purely vocal perspective, however, I would say the earlier performances were more glorious.

    • berkeleygirl

      I don’t know what the situation/theater was like in Kansas City, but mics do not always represent amplification. Sometimes, it’s because the concert is being recorded. At the same time, some venues -- especially those with a lot of concrete -- demand mics to guarantee that soloists can be heard. That was the case for me, some years ago, singing a Verdi Requiem in NW Indiana, in a venue made of concrete.

    • Camille

      I believe you have a very good and valid point about all this, as she did start out wanting to be an educator. She is someone whom American singers can relate to and deal with much more easily than a foreign-born Madame Who-Ha.

      She did some extremely interesting and smart/savvy hugging of the stage all whilst the preghiera was being sung in her initial exposition, that is, singing wise, as she had been on stage with the sickle for the mistletoe. The voice did not resemble the one I heard in Carnegie Hall about five years ago where I could barely hear her in the fourth or fifth row of the parquet. There is a lot of forward and upward projection which tends to a slightly sharpened edge to the sound which makes it carry, en bref. Aside from the lack of a bottom and the lack of anything past a B flat, it’s reasonably all there and resonant, and carries now. I don’t know what enhancement the Met may have in cases of these singers but she certainly knows how to use the stage as a sounding resonator board.
      just my observations from 9 rows away, and fyi.

  • Daniel Swick
    Subtly be damned, Ms. Ross rolls out the opening lines like a woman possessed…and what a pig MDM was…no sense of rhythm at all.

    • Combine the strengths of Rad’s and Ross’s Normas and you have one for the ages. I heard this complete Ross performance (which also has Cossotto as Adalgisa) a while ago. And I recall her being much stronger in the fiery sections than in the long, lyrical lines.

    • Kullervo

      If you watch the full video of that Norma, you’ll note that MDM immediately breaks character following his first act cabaletta and takes several bows at the foot of the stage, beaming at the audience.

      And yeah, Ross is terrific. To clarify Kashania’s comment -- this particular video doesn’t have Cossotto -- it has Giovanna Vighi, who was apparently covering Fiorenza. Vighi is also tons of fun -- not a lick of subtlety but satisfying all the same.

      @MrsJohnClaggart can illuminate more on this one. I recall she wrote about it here enthusiastically when it first surfaced on youtube.

      • Thanks. I have an audio recording with Ross/MdM/Cossotto. I assumed it was from the same production or performance.

      • Daniel Swick

        Sadly she cannot. How sad.


    “walked toward an unfrightening fire leftover from a budget tour of Die Walküre” literally made me guffaw. Excellent review all the way round. I’m seeing Marina in October and looking forward to it. We had Meade and Barton here in LA last year and they both make a fine healthy noise if not terribly disturbed by the drama.

  • fletcher

    “…tight, white and usually sharp.”

    You called?

  • La Cieca
    • grimoaldo2

      “One was left with the impression that the legendary Druid warriors were not so much bellicose as severely tweaked.”

      That did make me literally Laugh Out Loud.

    • JJ: Very interesting observation about JDD. She has such a youthful persona that one would think her a perfect fit for Adalgisa (vocal considerations aside). But you’re right, in serious drama, she is capable of great dignity, even grandeur.

  • Ivy Lin

    Well I was there last night too. It was my first-ever opening night. Eh, not so excited.

    • basso.profundo

      “Matthew Rose (Oroveso) must have been having a bad night because he sounded shaky and wobbly all night and he usually is reliable.”

      I disagree, Ivy, Matthew Rose has never been a singer worthy of appearing on the stages of the top houses around the world. He sounded atrocious last night, right from the get-go. I mean, I don’t think anyone goes to Norma to hear Oroveso anyway, but if Matthew Rose is the best bass that the Met can come up with for an opening night new production then we’re in big trouble. I’d be shocked if there weren’t more solid basses in the chorus than what we heard last night from Rose.

      • Ivy Lin

        Well I never said he was Chaliapin v 2.0 but he usually doesn’t sound as horrible as he did last night. As for basses, there seems to be a world shortage. Even Russia isn’t producing basses anymore.

      • Greg Freed

        I have literally never heard you say a positive word about any singer.

        • Armerjacquino


        • Daniel Swick


        • laddie

          He likes Elza van den Heever. Meh.

        • Tristan246


    • Niel Rishoi

      This is the response that most closely aligns with mine.

      • Ivy Lin

        I’m humbled. You are the Norma Sage.

        • Niel Rishoi

          Thank you. You took care to mention several things I’ve not seen elsewhere…Rad’s vowels, for one, how badly mangled they are, how she cannot properly sound them out in certain areas of he voice, corresponding to where the vowel and the note is.

          • Niel Rishoi

            Also, about her voice dropping out during “In mia man” -- the “Adalgisa fia punita” could not be heard AT ALL at first.

    • Ivy: I can’t agree with you that isn’t a Rad’ isn’t a musical singer. Phonetic Italian — sure. Mangled vowels — sure. Smudgy coloratura — sure. Musicality — I think she has plenty and knows better than most in the world today how to sculpt a line (though she doesat times rely on pianissimi too much).

      Where she does fail is in fast passages, which aren’t well shaped and lacking in rhythmic drive. So yes, that can be attributed to musicality but I also think it is a by-product of her technical limitations in coloratura. Her voice is growing less flexible with each year and she’s just managing the notes in the fast passages — hence, no shape.

      But I would say she’s an inherently musical singer. Listen to her shape a Verdi aria. Even in this dramatically overwrought “Vivi ingrato”, there is musicality from beginning to the end, and she doesn’t use pianissimi as a trick here.

  • basso.profundo

    Good to see that people are starting to realize how overrated DiDonato is. Her ducking that C was cringeworthy, as was most of the rest of her singing. But she was far from the only culprit. Calleja has always been overhyped as well, but Pollione is definitely not his rep. It’s rather pathetic that this is the best the Met can come up with vocally for an opening night new production.

  • ER

    I generally loved the evening. The production was neither offensive nor particularly illuminating…. (including in the literal sense of the word-- much of the staging was dark dark dark).

    While the singers all had imperfections one could carp about, I think the total added to more than the sum of the parts. What was particularly effective was the staging of the female duets— which became a dramatic high point instead of the stand-and-harmonize it often becomes.

    Radvanovsky was all said and done splendid-- and the Casta Diva was the best I’ve heard in a while. The problem is her diction, and also an annoying tendency to just lurch into fff or ppp notes instead of building those effects within the vocal line.

  • Yige Li

    Here’s a question: can anyone name just ONE interesting recent MET new production that is not a co-production with other companies?

    Different to Bart Sher whose “opera director” career (if there is one) has been almost MET-only (with about 2 or 3 productions elsewhere), David McVicar has an international career and certain has done some interesting works elsewhere.

    That’s to say, I don’t have any high expectation of the upcoming “Tosca” production--not because it’s a McVicar production but because it’s a MET-only new production.

    • steveac10

      I think a big part of the reason the co-productions work better on the whole is because they never premiere at the Met and the kinks can be worked out across the pond. Essentially the ENO is the Met’s New Haven. I saw Woolcock’s Pearl Fishers in London the year it premiered and there were changes large and small at the Met that were all improvements.

      • Yige Li

        I agree with you on that changing after real premiere made the MET premiere work better. Still I think the more important element a MET-only production has is that it indicates MET wants the certain production of a taste that no other international top house shares, which is definitely not a good sign.

  • DerLeiermann

    The title of this thread really is genius.

  • Camille

    This paragraph sums up a lot of my feeling on this production, as well:

    “One searched in vain for a distinctive directorial point of view on the travails of a woman who is clearly having trouble balancing her public and private lives. Unfortunately, McVicar frequently undercut Norma’s role as priestess; at her entrance she immediately rolled onto her back with arms outstretched (to the moon?) on a platform lodged in a massive tree that dominated a tableau that reminded some of either the old Met Rusalka or its new Falstaff.”

    The first time I saw it, last Thursday’s Final Dress, it didn’t occur to me but, seated more closely on opening night, the first thought which occurred to me was “OMG, they’ve got the tree from Rusalka out here by mistake!” The rolling around on her back just looks dumb. Is it, perhaps, a part of Druidic ritual? I am no druidess so can’t know for certain. The most damaging thing to Radvanovsky was the way, INDEED, McVicar undercut her role as priestess and H.B.I.C., and turned her into just another harried working mom. This is an opera about a DEMI=Goddess, dammit! Although, I did find the Adalgisa as Administrative Sickle Assistant rather an interesting concept and felt it fairly viable.

    I could go on for hours, but won’t, as it’s not worth my time and energy and no one gives a damn anyway. In no way, shape, or form did this Norma equal the one SR gave us in October/November 2013, and I feel very lucky to have attended two of those performances as well as listen in a couple or three times on the radio. The voice is losing its core and has been used and abused so much that the constant diminution of the sound is going to continue and continue from now on, probably. The vocalizing she did in the Roberto Devereux, just last April, was cut from a different cloth entirely and were still excellent, if not perfect and to everyone’s liking.

    Better she sing Maddalena in Andrea Chénier, Aïda, or Bello et al.

    For the other two principals I was most please by Ms. DiDonato’s effective performance, even with her inevitable transposition (kept to a minimum here), and a necessary evasion of the C in alt in first duet. Her expressive capacities and her attention to the lyrics and how they were communicated more than made up for an errant or lacking high note or so. Mr. Calleja seemed to not be having the greatest time of it, but then, his voice is not really weighted sufficiently on the bottom to give the full gravitas necessary. His characterization was entirely detestable, a real WEENIE! As he seems to be a perfectly lovely and jovial young man, it was one forced upon him and ill=suited his personality. Matthew Rose sang less poorly than the abysmal performance of Beethoven’s Ninth I hear him a couple months ago in Tully with Ivan Fischer et al. That was definitely a “Freunde, NICHT diese Töne!” kind of performance! Also, he made something more of the character other than is the usual stiff graybeard Oroveso generally. (At least it wasn’t Morris again, thanks to g-tt for that. ) Flavio and the Clotilde were both exceptionally good, I felt, and very promising. At times, the Flavio sounded just about as well and as forceful as the Pollione! Miss Bradley was asked to be a much more active part of the second act duet than is usual, and in her stage action of handling the children she did so with more assurance than is usual of the timid, self-effacing Clotildes in my past. Bella voce!

    I’ve already registered my moaning about the electricity shortage at the Metropolitan so I shan’t whine about it again. A friend told me the effect of the lighting made it all look like a parking lot of tinseled Christmas trees, and it did have a bit of that aspect if one squinted in just the right way!

    Mr Christopher’s description of the ludicrous dancing or gyrations which accompanied the Guerra! chorus made me avert my eyes. Please. Don’t. Just don’t.

    All in all, an exhausting night of willing it all to be GREAT and knowing in the pit of one’s stomach, it wasn’t. Then again, I have never attended a great performance of this opera, so insanely difficult to cast. Short supply of druid priestesses these days, I guess.

    I shall return, however, out of my curiosity to hear the efforts of Marina Rebeka, for whom I have a growing healthy respect, and will be most interested to see what she will make of this overwrought, overworked, harassed, busy Mom, whom you can just imagine yelling:

    “Kids, get OUT of the Mistletoe!!!! How many times do I have to tell you?!?!?!?!!!!!!! Do I have to take a sickle to you to make you understand?????”

    Or basta

    • Tristan246

      Thanks for this Camille. It certainly wasn’t as bad as this ‘reviewer’ says. I don’t know him personally but this entire review is just mean and hateful. Every singer has their fault(s).

      • Camille

        I do not quite follow you here, Sir Tristan. Mr Christopher writes a great deal of what I, too, felt was valid and he has a great wealth of viewing experience extending back decades. Perhaps it is only the case that he has either seen better, or would like to see something other than what was presented? Most times he seems rather more fair, to me, than many others I read! Everyone has their favourites, and those whom they cannot tolerate.

        It always depends upon one’s own level of knowledge and education, plus particularly seminal experiences all combined, and so therefore we shall all never be able to agree readily on most or all things. What may pass for “meanness” is possibly only a very experienced reviewer’s disappointment in, or chagrin at hearing a performance they had anticipated which pales in actuality or in comparison to another past, more glorious one. We all get stuck in our past. “Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding.” Martin Bernheimer seemed to me, as a young person growing up in Los Angeles, a “mean old man”, but looking back now and re-reading him I realise the problem was more likely that I was “an ignorant child”. That he was acerbic and judgmental and had his favourites (Bubbles!), mstill seems to be so, but was also quite sharp and musically educated, intelligent in so many of his observations, not
        to mention, Solomonic at times.

        Perhaps by the time I attend for Marina Rebeka’s Norma I may, as well, on a different night and from another vantage point, have an entirely other experience.

        It’s all relative. If one is a singer, the husband or wife of one or an impressionable child or relative of same, or the close mentor and teacher or sponsor — of it’s advisable not to read critiques. In all, they are not reviewing the beloved person you know, but a cartoon they are breathing life into for a brief span, and should not be confused. On the other hand, an agent had better read the critiques! Maybe a coach as well.

        I do not know Mr Corwin in any way so this is not written in his stead, but simply how I feel, and do appreciate your kindness of attitude toward me. Thank you.

      • rapt

        I don’t get the “mean and hateful” either. The review--not surprisingly, given the insight and enthusiasm for opera characteristic of Mr. Corwin’s reviews and other contributions here--seems very understanding of the singers, focusing his criticism on the direction they had to work within (and, in the case of DiDonato, the constraint of what he felt was an uncongenial role).

        • Tristan246

          Yes you’re both right, I guess Camille’s tone was a bit more ‘accepting’ of the performance then the writer who’s piece she was commenting on. That better Cieca?

          • Camille

            Herr Tristan!

            Accepting is hardly the word here it’s TOLERATE.

            I TOLERATE that which I have no power to change, and as I do not direct the Metropolitan Opera — I put up with the 85% of boring, mediocre, uninspired, underlit, routine, (and a long list of other crimes), performances to get the 15%—and that is being generous—of what I find that is beautifil, individual, unique and inspired. I have been around far too long to walk into an opera house expecting that to happen very often. It doesn’t. I am no one’s sweet little old grandma who is ‘accepting’, but realist enough to know that one kisses a pond full of frogs to find one’s prince ——— et ça c’est TOUT!

            • I might change the name of my blog to “A pond full of frogs”

      • La Cieca

        Maybe you should start your own blog where you can publish only nice things about singers, even if you have to make stuff up.

        In the meanwhile, please be advised that putting the word “reviewer” in inverted commas is a deliberate insult to a parterre writer and a member of the parterre community. Don’t do it again.

  • Camille

    La Cieca Alerta! And to anyone who would also like to hear the Marina Rebeka Norma!!! —

    please note that the Normas for both October 16th and 20th are for some reason not listed on the New York Opera Calendar, but most assuredly are listed on the Met Website. As there are just two, one had better keep an eye out.

  • Lohenfal

    I saw Norma in the house today, and I can only say that Christopher’s review was brilliant. He captured all the many negative and few positive aspects of this undertaking. I’ve liked all 3 principals in other roles, but here they were all unsuited in one way or another and extremely disappointing. As for the production, this must be part of Gelb’s current attempt to win back the disaffected Met audience who prefers “realistic” stagings. I don’t think that Bellini and Romani were especially interested in the customs of the Gauls, and there were far too many details here in that direction. Some abstraction or stylization would’ve been welcome, as opposed to this reconstruction of the ancient world.

    I would add that the audience was extremely favorable in a sold-out house, so I must be one of the few naysayers. Also, Netrebko, despite her technical shortcomings, might have had enough charisma and acting ability to overcome this misguided effort. Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

    • DonCarloFanatic

      I saw it in HD, knowing they boost the lighting for those events. Of course the HD cameras zoomed in on the principals, and the chorus appeared mostly as bits of blood and sparkle in a dark sea. Costumes for the two ladies were hideous. Whoever allowed JDD’s dress to show a zipper with a dangling pull obviously did not realize how distracting that would be to an HD audience. I love Calleja, but his stage direction, as noted by others, was thankless. Why on earth would Adalgisa want anything to do with this violent creep?

      Of course it would have been very interesting with Netrebko, but I’m not sure her voice now has the dexterity for the challenges that Sondra Radvanovsky managed so ably.

      And yes, I noticed that the audience really did not want the curtain to go down and stay down, which I have not seen in a long time.

      • southerndoc1

        I thought the lighting in the forest scenes, with the changing moonlight, was quite beautiful in the HD.

        Once JDD in her page-boy haircut started flashing her thighs, all I could think of was Mary Martin as Peter Pan.

        • DonCarloFanatic

          Me, too, re Mary Martin, which just shows our age. I agree the moonlight was charming. Attempts to show blood and guts thus were muted.
          IMO, they built the costumes for much larger singers to come and didn’t bother to take them in for SR or JDD, both of whom are slender. Saw SR in Tosca in LA this year and she is not a large woman at all, but her Met costumes--especially the hair--were nasty..

      • rapt

        The HD was my first chance to see a production of Norma, as opposed to many hearings, and I’ll say for it that it was the first time I realized the opera wasn’t doomed to invoke the adjective “marmoreal.” The directorial missteps were certainly as described--though I was grateful to the camera angles for limiting the distracting bits for Adalgisa--but my ultimate view was that the whole thing was propelled by Radvanovsky’s energy. I was quite moved, and the audience at the local theatre--the biggest I’ve seen there among my occasional HD viewings--seemed pretty excited as well.

      • H_Badger

        Those black outfits that Radvonovsky and Calleja were in for the last scene….just awful. Like full body black spandex suits.

      • Susan Szbornak

        “Why on earth would Adalgisa want anything to do with this violent creep?”

        ….maybe she’s into furry bears?

        • DonCarloFanatic

          Although Romans of that period were notably clean shaven, I suppose Pollione may have, in the probably non-PC term now, “gone native.”

          • Susan Szbornak

            Did they shave their chests too? This Pollione is a furry all over! *squeal!*

      • Lohenfal

        It’s hard for me to figure out what excites a Met audience nowadays. Sometimes the most superlative singing or staging goes almost unnoticed, whereas fairly ordinary or even disagreeable work meets with approval. The Otello 2 years ago, to which Christopher refers, was another example of a performance/production which met with an ecstatic reception, in spite of the obvious flaws.

        • DonCarloFanatic

          It’s beautiful music. I’ve just been listening to a Callas Corelli version.

          • Lohenfal

            Yes, the beauty and profundity of the music came across yesterday in spite of the questionable presentation. Had Callas, Corelli and Ludwig been in the cast, I would’ve been in agreement with the audience reaction.

            • CwbyLA

              Callas, Corelli, and Ludwig are appearing in Houston Grand Opera’s production of Norma this season.

            • Armerjacquino

              I will never, ever understand people having a problem with a live audience liking a show. It’s maybe the teensiest bit arrogant.

            • Yige Li

              I don’t think the problem is about “people liking a show”, but “people liking a [not so good, in his opinion] show while not showing like to some other [great(er), in his opinion] show”. I can certainly relate to this kind of thinking (not on this particular show which I didn’t see). The answer can be the audience is inconsistent (this opinion is indeed “the teensiest bit arrogant”), or they are having a total different kind of reference frame (not just tolerant scale). It’s natural wanting to know what exactly is their reference frame.

            • Lohenfal

              You nailed it on the head. The Met audience is inconsistent. The singing I heard in the Met Idomeneo last spring was on a much higher level, and yet the audience reaction was favorable but not of the standing ovation kind. True, it wasn’t a new production, and Mozart might engender a more restrained response, but still quality should be recognized in any context.

              As far as singers of the past go, I try to put them out of my mind as much as possible before a performance. Even if I had never heard any other performance of Norma, I would question what took place yesterday. It wasn’t very good, not only by historical standards, but by a reasonable current standard. As I said, I’ve heard these principals in other operas and thought highly of them--Rad in Verdi, diDonato in other bel canto, Calleja as Edgardo. Their usual abilities didn’t translate well into Norma.

            • jackoh

              I think that AJ has a valid point here. You can criticize the reasons for an audience liking a particular show, but you cannot (without arrogance) denigrate the fact that they enjoyed the show. It’s like sex; you may criticize me for entering into a particular assignation with a particular partner, but you cannot denigrate the fact that I enjoyed it immensely.

            • Lohenfal

              Well, it normally doesn’t bother me if someone else likes something which I don’t care for. However, as a Met subscriber, I’ve seen so many instances of audience members there with little understanding of what they were watching and listening to. I’m not talking about beginners. Some of them have been going to performances there for just as long as I have but never seem to get past the basics. They tend to resist not only new production techniques, like the dreaded Regie, but also music they dislike because it’s “modern” or even if not modern, something they aren’t familiar with. If I have negative feelings about their tastes, they come from my personal experience of what occurs at the Met on a fairly regular basis.

            • CwbyLA

              Buddy, do you realize how arrogant you come across? If you have been going to the opera for as long as you say you do and presumably have been reading the comments on this website for a while as well, haven’t you learned that there are as many opinions as there are critics? What makes your opinion/taste the reference point for the Met audiences? It is not like we are talking about a physics problem where you can show a solution throught math. And even then, often there is more than one solution.

            • rapt

              I agree, CwbyLA, and would add that, in addition to the inevitability of different tastes, judging a singer’s performance in opera entails so many factors that the idea of “reasonable standards” seems chimerical to me. In the case of Norma, Radvanovsky’s response to the variety of demands of the role itself seemed to me to show a lot of variation--moments of singing more and less beautiful and controled, nervous or assured, histrionic moments more and less self-forgetful; and I cannot claim to define for the ages the proper weight to be given to the conveyed sense of the commitment and stamina of the performer. Yet it added up to my being blown away by the performer and appreciating all the more the beautiful and beautifully played music as well as the human reality to be discovered in the melodramatic story.

            • Armerjacquino

              ‘I didn’t enjoy this, so it offends me that you did’

            • jackoh

              Precisely. And I’ve been there!

        • Standard rep + star singers + “traditional” production = standing ovation.

          And the subtitles are a scream.