Cher Public

Sgombra è la sacra megaplex

I suspect that David McVicar’s new production of the Metropolitan Opera’s Norma had its most congenial showing as a totality, specifically in the HD format at the movie theater. 

It is a staging rife with many fine points and details—not all of which worked—that served—crucially—to make this intimate drama come to life. Facial expressions and movements are especially important to appreciating the exceptionally fine, even revelatory performance I saw this warm Saturday afternoon; I can’t imagine the small, subtle touches registering from afar in the nearly 4000-seat opera house.

In other words the cinematic approach abetted the performance. Too, the subtitles greatly increased understanding of what was being sung (I have long memorized the text and absorbed it, but not being able to organically think in Italian, the subtitles kept me understanding at a glance, of what was going on).

I firmly depart, though, with the majority of negative reviews accorded this updating of Bellini’s masterpiece. “Updating”? Yes. This is very much a production and approach needed for this day and age.

It may be the best directed staging of Norma I have ever seen. The previous night, looking through on YouTube through various recent and vintage productions, I was struck by the unbelievable badness of a high number of them, their stagings, direction and concepts presented: old-hat, turgid, static, and numbingly boring. Abnorma, Pollinator, Analgesia and Orotundo, if they are not sufficiently developed, can come across as stock old sticks.

Not here, though.

Gone is the chiffon, organza, lace, and flowered headgear. What this production and staging imparted was of a weary, ragged lot that are the tribe of the Druids, hiding out in a grimly oppressive, dark, and claustrophobic forest, with only pallid flecks of light dappling through the trees.

Norma’s secret dwelling, in which she hides her sins and children from the world, provides a domestic abode that is completely convincing, as it has all the effects one might have in such a situation (save for that prop Wild West wagon wheel…). The sets are purely cinematic, and the costumes look as if they came straight out of Braveheart-Robin Hood-styled epics. This is a rough, rugged motley crew of people, and they look (properly) as if they’re lacking fashion designers and hairdressers.

Gone is the stand-and-sing-only-to-the-audience approach. Gone is the quaint taint of “tasteful,” restrained, stately, contained gentility. Bellini and Romani’s drama is about violent emotions in a musically Classical mode (the “Guerra!” chorus alone should dissuade any notions that Bellini was a “gentle Sicilian:” it is of a startling, brutal ferocity that has no equal in any other opera).

It is about a woman who betrayed her tribe by having sex with a man on the side of the enemy, bearing two children, whom she keeps out of view. The father of her children starts an affair with his lover’s best friend. Thwarted mother threatens suicide, and asks her best friend to be the mother of her children, as well as intending to avenge her hurt by declaring war on the Romans.

After coming close to killing her lover and intending to lie about her best friend’s treason, mother instead confesses her own treason and sins, and sacrifices herself to burn to death, in which her lover joins her, and leaving her children orphaned. How often and how indelibly are these factors ever put across in any staging of Norma we’ve ever seen?

Right here, in this one.

For once, I gather that Romani’s libretto has been used as a main source of reference here. It is not only poetic, but keen on psychological detail. Read the text, I say, to understand the approach taken here. Quite often these details get lost in service to the music, but McVicar has evidently studied the text and implemented it with unerring skill.

What the directorial vision made manifest is the sheer, convoluted messiness of love, betrayal, and treason. This is the most tightly directed triangle affair of the story I have ever seen. All of the performers are made to interact with each other in a very conscientious manner, and it often works with arresting effectiveness. You see them physically reacting to each other, the text actually registering in their mutual responses; good acting is reacting, and it is especially well done here.

As I mentioned earlier, this staging concerns itself with the haphazard, dysfunctional themes of love, its neuroses, its masochism, and indecisiveness. Pollione upbraids Adalgisa in their duet (the import of his words, “Va, crudele! registers here), and practically bullies her into submission, and then, woos her most persuasively in “Vieni in Roma.” I particularly liked, during the trio finale of act one, where Pollione, defiant, looms threateningly over Norma as she’s sitting on her bed, and she pulls away from him as it to say, “Back off, creep!”

After all, Pollione is a warrior, and it stands to reason he’s not gonna readily let himself be a pushover to some woman. In their big confrontation in the duet “In mia man,” you see depicted the one-upmanship, the lovers-spat violence and irony of the words they fling at each other, and a keen sense that this couple has had a history together; moreover, that they’re not finished. The scene has dark, disturbing undertones of violence.

After Norma’s confession, she frees Pollione from his restraints, and you’re made to see—convincingly—that he is deeply touched by her nobility, and as they stand together during “Qual cor tradisti,” clinging to each other for support—while still in accusation mode, mentioning old wounds of hurt—it for once makes sense that they are bound together, and will die together.

They’re both guilty and penitent, and a suicidal death is their only recourse. As directed, and as enacted by Sondra Radvanovsky and Joseph Calleja, it is deeply powerful, terrifically moving stuff. Where before in any staging has one ever seen Norma and Pollione so physically intertwined and close? Usually, Pollione is standing off to the side, muttering to himself.

Watching this scene, and reading the subtitles, the deep underpinnings of Romani’s words, the drama has not only meaning, but sense. I also liked having Adalgisa watch, forlornly, as Norma and Pollione walk up to the pyre. It makes no sense now that she should disappear at the end.

I have never seen a staging where Pollione is made to be such a swaggering, macho brute; he is very much the intrepid, vigorous Roman warrior. This is a lusty, vital man, yet capable of tenderness, and finally, humility and redemption. Nowhere else, either, have I ever seen depicted such a troubled, conflicted Adalgisa.

You fully understand, here, her triple dilemma: being in love with her friend’s lover; the troubled departure from her tribe and chastity; and being asked to be her best friend’s surrogate parent. For once, Pollione and Adalgisa are successfully moved from being stock figures to major participants in the drama of Norma, who gets all the best music and lines.

McVicar, one senses, refuses to have Pollione and Adalgisa residing passively off to the sidelines, in deference to Norma; the motivic intentions for her decisions and choices are for once made strongly manifest here. Without convincing antagonists to play off of, Norma frequently becomes a one-woman show; McVicar has seen to it here that it doesn’t!

Not all of the directorial touches worked; Norma is made to enact her opening scene first laying down, then on her knees, disheveled, flopping around and gesticulating wildly, as if preparing for a Mad Scene. She cowers in a tree hollow during the last part of “Ah! bello a me ritorna.” (You might be able to sense a motivation there: expressing her agitated private thought about her love for Pollione, she could be worried her “asides” are becoming obvious).

There are a few distracting instances of candles being lighted that actually upstage the performers, as you can’t help but watch them fiddling with getting the damned things lit. Still, there is an intent here: to prevent this nearly action-less drama from being turgid and static.This results from some of the best work I have seen from all the singers involved.

Oroveso is one of the most thankless and unrewarding roles in the bass repertoire. His music is entirely conventional, and doesn’t really give the singer a real chance to distinguish himself. The opening to the opera provides a suitable lead-in to the proceedings, but the give-the-Norma-a-rest-before-her-big-closing-scene interlude “Ah, del Tebro” stops the drama in its tracks (Bellini had intended to revise Oroveso’s music at some point, but fate—his own premature death—precluded him from doing so.

It is tempting to speculate on an effective father-daughter duet that might have been implemented).   Nevertheless, Matthew Rose compensates by investing his words and phrasing with authority and vigor; tall and a commanding figure on the stage, his contribution, notably at the end, provides the drama with the necessary gravitas. My reservation concerns Rose’s voice, which is low-placed and throaty rather than resonant and ringing.

I came away with an entirely affirmative reaction to Calleja’s Pollione. Contrary to reports of his being wooden, I found him compelling and involved. His opening number, “Meco all’tar di Venere” was unusually well-sung and nuanced; Calleja registered both in his phrasing and physical expression what he was communicating. His plangent, buzzy tone, so unique and “old-tyme” in quality, is firm and steady, and his pingy Latin vowels are a real pleasure.

Calleja is less at ease, though, with the bumptious, brash cabaletta, “Me protegge,” which is a forgettable, thumping, and undistinguished tune anyway. Only one verse is sung, which is just as well. Calleja positively shines in the opera’s last 20 minutes, making Pollione as more than just a one-dimensional lunkhead.

Joyce DiDonato’s Adalgisa, high-strung, nervous, and tormented, is perhaps the best-acted in memory. Marvelously responsive to her co-stars and the dramatic situation, she is alert, focused, and throughly immersed in her characterization. Her conflict—love for Pollione, loyalty to her best friend—is “sent over” with genuine agony, and the burgeoning realizations of what she’s faced with are put across with startling vividness.

Vocally, one might have heard Adalgisas with more purity of tone, more ease at the top of her range, more smooth poise in the long lines, but few have ever exhibited the import of the text, and crucial lines as this star mezzo does (then again, DiDonato has a far more fitting tonal makeup than the scores of burly, beefy mezzo-contraltos—Elena Nicolai and Elena Obraztsova as sweet young thangs?— who’ve sung what is essentially a soprano role; too, a Carmen-Amneris-Azucena tonal color is not exactly apt for a young vestal virgin).

Most of all, how rewarding it is to see Adalgisa depicted as so complex a character! Physically, histrionically, and vocally, DiDonato’s Adalgisa is one of the most astutely realized I have ever seen.

Radvanovsky in the title role completely won me over with her performance. I reckon this to be the finest work she’s ever done. Though I earlier mentioned being displeased with Norma’s opening blocking, she gives it all she’s got and doesn’t at all shirk the moves she’s been given to do. Throughout, the soprano was convincing at every turn. She is visibly and audibly responsive to the dramatic situation, and her hard work and sincerity really pays off, and this is exactly the kind of direction she needs.

In Norma’s second scene, onto the end of the act in her secret dwelling, Radvanovsky successfully runs the gamut from tired, frustrated mother, to warm, supportive friend, to an angry woman scorned. The relationship to the children is especially played up here and Radvanovsky is entirely believable, and very touching.

Radvanovsky reaches genuine heights of tragedy in the opera’s last half hour. Physically and vocally, the soprano has never appeared so confident, so inner-directed in response to Norma’s situation; the priestess’s world is closing in on her, and Radvanovsky exhibits all the myriad emotions with gripping skill.

Vocally, the soprano is as she has always been: for the most part secure, with a few inconsistent spots. Perhaps inspired by McVicar’s direction, her recitatives have greatly improved, having more alertness and specificity of meaning. The voice is most outstanding when singing the long, lyrically elegiac lines, nowhere more so than in the last 15 minutes, which is filled with the most generously expansive outpouring of tone.

Earlier, “Casta diva,” “Oh, rimembranza” to the lyrical sections of the duets, to the “Dormono entrambi,” to the “Teneri figli,” are done with musical sensitivity and luxuriance of legato and tonal splendor.

I have accepted the fact that fast, accurately sung and ease of passagework will never be, a la Sutherland, a top feature of Radvanovsky’s work—though the latter is far better than past legions of dramatic verismo sopranos lumbering and screeching their way through. Possibly due to Radvanovsky’s laryngeal vocal production, intervallic leaps find her dragging, rather then springing up to the upper notes.

On my wish list: a more concentrated, clipped approach to consonants; “Casta diva” registers somewhat as “Casta-iva.” Vowels that have more Italianate purity and integrity; “madre,” for example, sounds like “madree.” Also; as one hears, Radvanovsky has in her a nice, pungent chest tone, as in “morra” in the opening recitative, and “dubbio” in her scene with Clotilde. Yet, one wonders why, in the pivotal duet with Pollione, “In mia man,” the “Adalgisa fia punita,” written low, on trills, is barely audible.

Finally, and this is a risky thing to even suggest: more clarion, forward resonance would be welcome, particularly in the higher regions of the voice; the graininess of tone, so alluring in the middle register, becomes tight and pressured at forte, the vibrato becoming narrow and accelerated.

It is important to note, though. Hearing Radvanovsky only aurally on the opening night web livestream versus seeing and hearing her in the HD moviecast is to garner an entirely different impression altogether. In the visual presentation, you don’t notice the less-felicitous drawbacks of the vocalism itself, and I suspect that aspect is in even greater in the house, where Radvanovsky’s singing is said to have an enormous impact. As it is, she left me impressed, deeply moved, and very much admiring of her performance as a whole.

I thought that Carlo Rizzi, the conductor, did an outstanding job of delivering the score. By that I mean, it was in service of accompanying the singers, while keeping the dynamics sensibly and sensitively under control. The Metropolitan Opera orchestra, in a piece like this, is luxury casting indeed.

The chorus and supers had much to do in this production besides the usual ludicrous standing around and commenting on the situation; they were made to be part of the drama too, quite excitingly at times.

The interest for me in this performance was the reinstatement of several, traditional cuts. The first Norma/Adalgisa duet’s “extension” was first heard on the first Sutherland/Horne recording; ditto for the Act One trio “Oh! Di qual sei vittima,” which restored Adalgisa’s statement directly following Norma’s, and, as well, extending the scope of it: this should be from here on the version used.

Also restored was the slow maggiore section following the “Guerra!” chorus, along with Norma’s upward arpeggio at the close. The biggest surprise though, came in the prelude to Act Two. The con dolore melody with cello, usually played just once, was repeated here, but with the clarinet and flute joining the cello—a most striking and beautiful effect, too fine to be lopped off.

Yet—yet! The concluding bars of act one were trimmed, as was the last bars of “In mia man.” Pollione’s cabaletta was cut to one verse.

Then, on the opening night livestream a moment of true confusion occurred. It has become customary to transpose the second act’s duets “Deh! con te… Mira o Norma,” in the score keys of C and F, to, respectively, down to B flat and E flat. So, “Deh! con te” in this performance starts in the original key… but then, when Adalgisa begins her statement, it is lowered to B flat, then it is put up again to F for “Mira o Norma.”

This subterfuge intially completely threw me off and messed with my mind, until a musically well-trained friend messaged me of the devious trick. I have no objections; DiDonato obviously had decided the section was too high for her, and better that than hearing it severely pressed.

Despite the inconsistencies that never seem to escape any operatic performance, this staging of Norma was a complete revelation to me. I have developed an entirely new perspective on how this, my favorite opera, could be further enhanced in terms of how it is presented—more human, more psychologically deep, and more complex than has been previously allowed.

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

  • Thanks so much for this detailed review, Niel.

    This reception to this production continues to surprise. Your review was unexpected, as was JJ’s praise of Rad. I’m glad to hear that she is doing her best dramatic work in this.

    Like you, I’m delighted by all the cuts that have been opened, especially after “Guerra guerra”. Based on what I’ve read, I wonder if Pollione’s cabaletta was reduced to one verse based on Calleja’s comfort level with the piece. I’m thinking that it wasn’t a strictly musical scholarship decision.

    • Camille

      Must be his discomfort level as somehow it doesn’t suit him. His voice is not sufficiently weighted at bottom to really make its effect in this role, just a general impression.

  • Camille

    You mean they finally flipped the light switch to “ON”? How nice for the HD audience.

    One more performance to hear the Normina of Marina and then I’m done with these Druids. Thank you very much.

    • DonCarloFanatic

      It was still very dark--but as noted in another thread, the sparkle of lights in the dark was attractive, and the only singers in the dark were the chorus members. Huge waste of the makeup and artfully distressed costumes for all those bruised, bloody, and miserable Druids, but I can’t say I minded not seeing every last one of them.

    • southerndoc1

      “the Normina of Marina”

      You’ve already heard her sing it?

      • Camille

        There are a couple more segments on the ‘net. Go see for yourself.

        I happen to have a very good opinion of Marina, based upon the two performances I’ve heard her in (Guillaume Tell in house and an HD Donn’Anna). Apparently, she had a much contested or unliked Violetta in Chicago but don’t know, don’t care.

        It’s a rather narrow voice, and on the bottom it is probanly not ample enough--however—her fioriture are more accurate and that will be a refreshing change after what I’ve heard this far.

        • southerndoc1

          Fair enough. I’m just not willing to write her off yet as a “Normina” yet -- her voice has enough edge and is well-projected enough that it may work at the Met.

          • Camille

            Honey, don’t you understand nothin’ ’bout no WORDPLAY?

            let an old lady have her fun!

            • manou

              So long as she is not a Normaccia…

            • Camille

              I’ve heard more than ONE Normaccia and a Normina will be far preferable.

              After those Normaccias I didn’t go back to the Met for a year!

        • Niel Rishoi

          I listened to this. It is sung with much feeling and sensitivity to the line, but the vibrato is a bit loose.

          • Camille

            Uh-huh. It’s a little premature but that was almost two years back now so there may well be something else she has to offer now.

            As well, she has experience singing in the Met and she has doubtless been following her competitor, so who knows what we’ll get?


      Mme. Camille which performance are you going to?

      • Camille

        The opening night, the 16th.

        The only other date, the 20th I’ve got to hear Argerich at Carnegie Hall in her Prokofiev number which i have been missing my whole life. As both of us will be dead sooner raher than later, it’s then or never.

        • I hope Martha comes through for you!!

          • Camille

            Why thank you so much!! I have never managed, in however many long years it has now been, to have been to her performances and I just don’t know HOW that is…well, she did retire for a while. Anyway, she’s the pianist I would have been, IF Only…!

            • My one chance came when she and Oscar Peterson were doing a concert in Toronto (though they didn’t collaborate; each had their own half). Alas, I was out of town. I made up for it by seeing Walküre at the Lyric in Chicago.

          • Camille

            There is good news for you, too, mon bien-aimé—the concert on the 20th will be broadcast live over so you might hear it as well! It’s probably not possible to get it via the radio there in Toronto, actually, but if you go to their website it should be accessible. If not, it will be archived and you’ll hear it sooner or later, chéri!

        • PATRICK MACK

          I am at the performance on the 16th with a friend.

          • Camille

            Look for a bag lady with a Chanel bag!

            • PATRICK MACK

              Oh THAT will narrow it down.

            • Camille

              You stand by that pole of April’s and I will come swooping down on you at some point, Chanel bag and all.

              Oh, I have to co-ordinate with some friends who are attending that night so there are logistics to work out. I know from your thumbnail whatcha look like and all you have to do is be on the look out for someone who looks like this:


              but with a Chanel opera glass bag.
              More details to follow!

            • PATRICK MACK

              I’ve heard about the Millo pole but don’t know where is.

            • Camille

              It is not my custom to meet with other parterriani, for reasons of my own, but since this is an exceptional occasion and you have travelled a long way, I will send word by La Cieca later in the week and she will be only too glad to inform you of the location of April’s Pole, (The Millo Pole) and the sacred rites which surround it, and how to recognize little old Camille. You have always made a point of being a gentleman in your interactions with me, and for that I am most appreciative.

              Hasta la vista!

    • Nelly della Vittoria

      I’m going to hear Marina too, on the 16th: we’ll see!

      • Camille

        Ships passing in the night once more, aren’t we Nell?

        Well, at least we both have BCBG!! That’s something these days, isn’t it?

        • Nelly della Vittoria

          (whispering) This coven or is there another one?

          • Camille

            Is there any OTHER??

            cackle, cackle

  • Yige Li

    Thanks for the detailed review especially for the different opinion with those previous from the house.

    I do have the concern if a production left a better impression to the cinema audience than to the live audience which seems to be intentionally so (that’s to say, more of the rehearsing resource has been devoted to the experience of cinema audience), can we say that in this way HD is hurting live opera?

    • Armerjacquino

      McVicar strength has always been in personenregie- singers love working with him for a reason. It could simply be that, rather than the production being designed for a cinema audience, details of characterisation that it’s hard to distinguish from a large auditorium are being captured by the cameras.

    • Niel Rishoi

      Much appreciated.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    I can’t comment on such a musically knowledgeable and detailed review except to say thank you.

    • Niel Rishoi

      Thank you!

  • Yalma Cuder-Zicci

    “they look (properly) as if they’re lacking fashion designers and hairdressers.”

    Except in the case of Adalgisa, who had the same chic hairstyle Joyce DiDonato would wear to conduct one of her master classes.

    • DonCarloFanatic

      I guess the reason Norma could hide two pregnancies was the voluminous outfit.

  • Jacqueline Eubanks

    Thanks Niel, you absolutely got it.

    • Niel Rishoi

      Thank you for your feedback!

  • RE: Rad’s acting. I’ve found that her dramatic work is more dependent on the director with whom she is working than any other operatic leading lady that I can recall. She is quite sensitive to drama and, more importantly, very game to do what is asked of her.

    In Roberto Devereux, I take it that she took McVicar’s direction and went at it whole hog. The result was dramatically overwrought though I didn’t hate it like some. By the sounds of it, she was much better directed here and responded to that direction.

    Most singers, especially famous ones, tend to have their approach to acting and are only partially influenced (if at all) by a director. I think Rad is completely malleable as an actor. That is to her credit. But it can also mean that if she’s appearing in a revival without much rehearsal, then the results could be all over the place.

    • Niel Rishoi

      My reservations with her work on Roberto Devereux seemed to me that much of the blocking and moves in Act 2 were based on watching the Sills performance from Wolf Trap, 1975; and the extraneous “bits” didn’t seem logical, and looked contrived. But the final scene -- apart from having Elisabetta made to look like a Grand Guignol hag -- was magnificently sung and portrayed.

      • That’s interesting. I haven’t seen the Sills video other than a couple of YT clips. Either way, it seems like she’s an impressionable actress.

        • Niel Rishoi

          The Norma really convinced me of her ability to take, absorb, and flesh out good direction: it was the most pleasant surprise.

          • Niel Rishoi

            It is hard to fully explain about the Devereux, but here it is. Sills had a flutey, delicate tone which she even admitted singing Elisabetta cut short her career by several years. Her method was to really focus on the words, the meaning of them, and by incorporating props, and “stage business” to accentuate her performance -- and she made it work, best through a visual medium. Radvanovsky, closest to the kind of voice that Donizetti seemed to call for in the role, didn’t really need the gimmicks: the score indicates a more grandly imperious kind of queen, whose powerful “sweep” of vocal lines indicating that her majesty and “lording it over” was the dominant “voice” -- in other words, the strength of Radvanovsky’s instrument would have sufficed.

  • Dan Patterson

    Thanks so much for this intriguing and positive review. I had to miss the telecast, sadly, but this review has convinced to catch the “encore” showing on Wednesday. I remember thinking, when listening to the opening night broadcast, that Radvanovsky’s piano singing reminded me of Gencer’s. In general, I like this soprano very much. But I’m also looking forward to hearing what Angela Meade can bring to the role these days. Thanks again, Niel!

    • Niel Rishoi

      Appreciate your feedback, Dan! I think the key to appreciating this to try and forget all the other Normas you have seen. Both of stagings, and who you saw perform all the roles before.Let us know what you think at the encore!

      • Dan Patterson

        Niel, I have seen only two live productions of NORMA. The first was Scotto in Cincinnati and that was a fine experience -- she was magical. Then I saw a production in Philadelphia -- I don’t remember the Norma, and the most memorable thing was when her boob was accidentally exposed in the final scene. I’ve seen videos of Caballe, Sutherland, Yoncheva, and probably one or two others I don’t recall. I’ve owned and heard many audio recordings of NORMA, too, most recently the Bartoli, which I did not much like.

        Tonight’s encore of the Met telecast was, quite simply, one of the most moving experiences of my life. Yes, I had tears in my eyes, but that’s common enough for me; I was deeply, profoundly stirred. (Even shaken!)

        When I listened to pieces of the opening night broadcast, I liked what I heard but had quibbles. DiDonato sounded a bit overparted, I thought, and Radvanovsky’s Norma was not exactly the art that conceals art. I had no such reservations seeing tonight’s encore showing.

        While I think your critque is spot on in every case (those damn candles!) the sum proved more than the parts. Yes, I’ve heard prettier “Mira, O Normas” and more impressive top D’s, and more resonant Orovesos, but it all worked together so well, that I don’t want to quibble. I even liked the McVicar production, and I’ve royally hated several of his before. (A friend had to restrain me walking out of his Houston MANON.)

        In the course of my over seven decades, I’ve seen hundreds of opera performances and enjoyed the vast majority of them. Very few performances have moved me as much as this one has.

        Radvanovsky is singing Norma here in Houston this season, but we lost our theater to Harvey and I think it’s being done in a basketball arena, so I’m iffy about attending, given the exorbitant ticket prices these days.

        Thanks again, Niel, for convincing me to go to this, I would sure have hated to miss it now that I have seen it.

        • Niel Rishoi

          Glad you enjoyed it, and that my views coincided with yours! I left the theater on Saturday, fairly stunned…I’d gotten so used to commonplace, formulaic Norma performances, and it was a happy surprise that it moved me so much. I wish I could have seen Scotto in the role. I happen to think her size of voice was probably closest to the early 19th century type. She also had a natural affinity for the text.

          • Niel Rishoi

            It will be interesting to see if the Houston performances take place.

            • Dan Patterson

              The Scotto performance was in the days before super-titles, and though I was very familiar with the opera, through many recordings, my appreciation would have been augmented by titles back then, as it was certainly helped tonight. Yes, Scotto’s voice was probably close to the voice size and type the role was written for. To me, Radvanovsky’s closest comparison is (give me a running start) Callas herself.

        • CCorwinNYC

          Monastyrska sings Norma in Houston in April, not Radvanovsky.

          • Dan Patterson

            God how I hate being old and so easily confused. Thanks for the correction!

  • Antikitschychick

    What a fabulous review. Thanks so much for this Niel. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your very precisely written and unabashedly positive assessment of the HD. I agree wholeheartedly with pretty much everything you say and I’m glad you enjoyed the performance. I was also pleasantly surprised by what I saw and heard after reading some of the initial reviews, which were much less enthusiastic if not downright negative. The production had it’s flaws to be sure (we could have done without the muscular men mugging at the cameras and audience while waving around their weapons as if it was a Game of Thrones musical and yes the business with the candles was distracting) and I agree the writhing by La Rad at the beginning, which she performed with utter commitment, was a bit much…but these are just quibbles in what was otherwise one of the finest performances of Norma I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a number of them since this is also one of my favorite operas).

    This performance really cemented the notion for me that McVicar really excels at the personregie aspect as you and others have suggested, the prime example here being Calleja’s performance. He was totally convincing and yes actually reacting to what his co-stars were doing onstage rather than merely following blocking directions and pacing about with a bland look on his face as I’ve seen him in other productions. It really was a great performance he gave, even despite the iffy and clipped cabaletta in the beginning (““Me protegge,”). For the first EVER I could believe why these two women in particular would fall for him. And, sorry, but I totally agree with Joyce that his stature helped lol.

    La Rad’s Casta Diva was a bit of a letdown for me since she started off a bit rough (she ran out of air on the first phrase and seemed too preoccupied with the singing rather than just being in the moment), but everything from that point forward was great. Of course, I do share your reservations about her enunciation being unidiomatic and the lack of proper chest resonance which I agree she does seem to have yet chooses not to employ, but I do disagree that her coloratura is sloppy; I think it’s pretty damn good for someone with such a large, dark voice that is obviously quite difficult to manage. At times you could see that she was working very hard, but they were only moments. I’m honestly always stunned she can produce the sound that she does, which is definitely huge and powerful in the house and leaves one awestruck…

    For me though what, or who, I should say, elevated the performance to the next level was Joyce. I have to confess I very often skip the Adalgisa/Pollione duet in other performances of this opera I see because I find it to be staged with no chemistry between the two leads whatsoever, or just boring, even if well sung. But here, as you pointed out, we got a more three-dimensional Adalgisa and more physical duet which really fleshed out the characters’ dilemma. Joyce’s dramatic instincts are always on point so I’m not surprised that she was able to convey her character’s emotions effectively but where I thought her true brilliance shone was in managing to be almost omnipresent in this production without ever being obtrusive in an annoying way or in a way that made it seem like she was cloying at the cameras or the audience for attention. That takes real skill, focus and a level of professionalism that is really exemplary. Not to mention she knows how to sing this music and import the text as you say to give a fully dramatic portrayal rather than just sing prettily.

    The orchestra and chorus were great as usual and props to Michelle Bradley who obviously has a great voice, played her small role well and could potentially follow in the steps of La Sutherland. It will be interesting to see her career develop. Mathew Rose did the best with his very ungrateful role and sounded refreshingly young and wobble-free. So yeah for anyone that hasn’t seen this yet I’d recommend you catch the encore.

    More can be said about the costumes and the sets but it’s late and I should probably see this again before talking about any of that since I don’t think I caught a lot of the details (I could write an entire separate post about the unpleasant experience I had at the theater but I don’t like to dwell on negative things of the past; I enjoyed the performance and that’s what matters).

    • Niel Rishoi

      I enjoyed your own take on everything, and thanks!

    • Susan Szbornak

      I, for one enjoyed the muscular male supers. ALMOST as much as a D in alt!

      • Antikitschychick

        ???? well I’m glad someone enjoyed them.

        • Susan Szbornak

          Considering the city I live in and random conversations with the leathermen in the crowd, it was more than “someone”, I guarantee. Snacky supers!

          • Antikitschychick

            Haha fair enough! Everyone is entitled to have their bel candy the way they like it ????.

  • Susan Szbornak

    Niel, THANK YOU. I bawled at the end of Norma, I was that moved by the entire production, singers, chorus, supers, orchestra, etc.
    (full disclosure: I was only at the cinecast, I have not seen this production in person) Rad’s final scene was overwhelming. I agree with your pluses and minuses wholeheartedly, with a balance definitely towards: WOW.

    • rapt

      “I bawled at the end of Norma…” I’m glad I wasn’t the only one!

    • Niel Rishoi

      It was a real surprise to me that *I* got choked up…I usually study what I’m studying with a certain scholarly detachment (most of the time), so when I get really caught up with the performance emotionally, that is when I know (speaking for myself) it had succeeded by one or more factors that caused the onion ninjas to flow. I love it when that happens, because my scholarly ass gets kicked and it reminds me why I fell in love with opera in the first place: because it is beautiful and supremely moving. Thank you very much, Susan, for your feedback

  • PCally

    Perhaps not directly related but I’d thought I’d share clips of two singers whom I’d never known sung Adalgisa. Can’t help wondering why we don’t hear this kind of sound in the role more often. They are literally the only interpreters of this part I’ve ever heard who actually sound younger than their respective Norma.

    Not really familiar with Cuberli outside of her Mozart recordings but I have to say that I’m totally in love with her. My newest singer obsession and there’s quite of bit of stellar things on YouTube. Wonder why she’s so unknown.

    • southerndoc1

      Cuberli was on the almost endless list of singers that HvK said were going to be in his recording of Norma -- others that I remember were Freni and Obratszova -- usually without specifying which role they would take.

      • Obratszova? As who, Pollione?

        • Baron Douphol

          He also wanted Obie to do Tosca

        • Niel Rishoi

          Yes, she could have!

      • PCally

        Of all the names I’ve heard in reference to that planned recording Cuberli sounds like the soprano who would most be able to have a go at Norma. I really like her

  • rapt

    Thought I’d add (though late) my appreciation for this review, which is true to my experience, and which made me rethink the director’s contribution to the powerful emotional effect of the performance (seen on HD). I also wanted to add a report of an opera-neophyte friend, whom I had chatted with at the intermission (and who, about a week before the HD showing, had said he was looking forward to Norma, “especially the mad scene.”). I ran into him yesterday and asked if he had liked the second half as much as, during intermission, he had reported liking the first. He said that he had liked it even more than the first half--that, not having known what was going to happen, he was deeply moved by the events. Opera as a story rather than a costumed concert--what a concept!