Cher Public

“Norma,” bis

Sir David McVicar’s inept and dreary new production of Bellini’s Norma proved to be more satisfying than it had been on opening night when it returned to the Met Friday evening thanks to its new leading ladies Angela Meade and Jamie Barton.

If they might be considered less “starry” than their predecessors Sondra Radvanovsky and Joyce DiDonato both Meade and Barton struck me as more comfortably cast as the beset heroine and her nemesis-turned-boon-companion. While an impressive achievement, Radvanovsky’s Norma sometimes struck me as an amalgam of self-consciously calculated effects. Her ambition and hard work have resulted in some satisfying bel canto portrayals recently but one is unusually aware of the effort involved rather than being comforted by a diva’s effortless command of the style.

Perhaps Meade did not surmount every obstacle in the awesome minefield of vocal and dramatic demands required to be the ideal Norma–but then how many others have? She did however always sound like she belonged in the role. Throughout the evening she was more in command than she had been four years ago when she sang her first Norma at the Met once again succeeding Radvanovsky.

She ably negotiated the demanding arc from an authoritative “Sedisioze voci” to a finely spun “Casta diva” (this was after all the aria that won her lots of competitions and thousands of dollars) and finally to a yearning, mildly decorated “Ah bello a me ritorna.” All without much of the distracting stage business McVicar cooked up for her predecessor.

Once past those daunting hurdles she more and more came into her own. Dreamy reminiscences of falling on love with Pollione turned into searing rage when he was revealed as Adalgisa’s seducer. The explosive coloratura of “Oh non tremare” singed as did the high D that ended the act. Meade’s weaknesses as an actress kept her agonized monologue where she struggled with the urge to kill her children from making its full effect but yet the aching long lines of “Teneri figli” were beautifully done.

Stamina wasn’t a problem; indeed by the finale she sounded as if she could have gone another act. Perhaps she didn’t quite convince in the final scene where Bellini and Romani pave an impossibly truncated evolution from hope to vengeance to renunciation and acceptance, but Meade raged effectively at Pollione’s intransigence and capped their duet with a stinging high E-flat. She then floated a stabbing “Qual cor tradisti” and “Deh! Non volerli vittime.”

I was surprised to discover that in the past decade I’d heard Meade so often–eleven roles by Rossini, Donizetti and Verdi, in addition to Bellini. She can be an uneven singer and she has sometimes been accused of relying on “trick” pianissimi that sound unrelated to the rest of the voice but on Friday for the most part they sounded fully integrated into the line.

She fearlessly dug into chest voice in the all-important recitatives, a marked difference from Radvanovsky’s more gingerly approach. Loud high notes have taken on an increased shrill glare recently and the full-on intensity of her interpretation at times risked turning Norma into an unsympathetic termagant. But all in all this was a satisfying performance of an absolute beast of a role.

Although many hailed DiDonato as Adalgisa, I found her vocally overparted and the quivering neurasthenic interpretation cooked up with McVicar nearly unwatchable. Happily Barton wasn’t required to be as relentlessly neurotic as DiDonato nor did she have to wear that ridiculous potato-sack costume in the first act. From the first lines of her entrance prayer Barton boldly gave notice that this was going to be an old-school, gratifyingly big-voiced Adalgisa.

Like Meade she too had improved greatly on her promising role debut at the Met four years ago. While the opulent richness of Barton’s instrument again stunned, it was the quieter moments that were truly special. During her rapt verse responding to Pollione’s “Vieni a Roma” she conveyed a remarkable erotic intoxication that went far in explaining the virgin priestess’s infatuation with the brutish consul.

There was little doubt what was she was looking forward to in “Roma” and not just because Barton was born in Rome—Georgia! And the two strophes at the beginning of the first Norma-Adalgisa duet were sublime, suffused with the heady limerence of first infatuation.

Her voice and Meade’s blended together well perhaps the benefit of having done Bellini together before—Norma previously at the Met and in Los Angeles and Beatrice di Tenda at Carnegie Hall. Yet the faster music didn’t come easily to Barton nor some of the high notes: it initially seemed that she like DiDonato might duck the high C in the first duet.

Barton didn’t but it landed horribly flat and other forte highs could sound stressed. I wondered if perhaps her recent preoccupation with Verdi and Wagner had made bel canto roles less suitable but a broadcast of her recent Léonor in La Favorite from Madrid opposite Javier Camarena demonstrated that she is still very much a mistress of that repertoire. Perhaps Friday night she was just not at her best.

Neither lady was helped by the often downright dumb production which came across as even more leaden and unimaginative than it had ten weeks ago. It’s so unadventurous and predictable that I could imagine Zinka Milanov strolling into a rehearsal and feeling right at home. I’m sure that blunt diva though wouldn’t have been happy with McVicar’s idiotic staging of “Mira o Norma” as a five-on-a-bed: while Norma and Adalgisa pour out their hearts, Clotilde and the two kids snuggle on the same big Tempur-Pedic.

McVicar’s clunky blocking of the big trio during which Norma lights candles at the ersatz-altar and Pollione ends up sitting on the big bed brought to mind a delicious sequence in a film I recently saw. In Greta Gerwig’s luminous Lady Bird a bunch of high schoolers are putting on a production of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. The kindly priest who has been directing has a breakdown and is replaced by the coach whose staging “concepts” are conveyed to his performers as football plays on a chalkboard.

Joseph Calleja returned as Pollione and an announcement was made that he was suffering from a cold. Except for dropping the high C in his aria and muffing the end of his cabaletta he actually sounded better than he had on opening night. His Pollione is still an awful brute but his ringing confident singing throughout was a joy. Matthew Rose remained a firm and vigorous Oroveso who unfortunately still had to put up with those juiced-up Game of Thrones wannabes running amok and ruining the final scene with their gyrations and risible pyre-building.

Carlo Rizzi’s taut and stylish conducting was one of the highlights of the production’s premiere; Joseph Colaneri took over on Friday night and had his hands full keeping his on-stage and off-stage forces together. Some of the more banal ceremonial pages of Bellini’s score sagged and the dramatic tension lapsed here and there. He was considerate of his singers, at times perhaps too much so. But the orchestra played well and the chorus sounded particularly brazen during the hyped-up “Guerra” chorus.

Four performances remain, the final one a Saturday afternoon broadcast on December 16. Radio audiences worldwide will then have the chance to discern how Meade & Barton figure in the pantheon of Norma-Adalgisa pairings in recent Met history.

  • Camille

    Please note: the radio broadcast is on Saturday, December 16, and not 11.

    Thank you for your always elegant thoughts, Mr Christopher, so much appreciated by us all. Still, I remain unconvinced of this duo and will not be repeating a visit to the house in order to hear them sing but will, time allowing, listen in on the aforementioned broadcast date.

    • Perhaps Meade’s voice has finally grown into the role, Camille. I do trust Mr. Corwin’s ears. I’m intrigued. And she’s doing the “Sutherland” E-flat in the allegro of “In mia man”. A must-listen if not a must-see for sure.
      Ohime, all else seems to be very traurigkeit this Monday.

      • Camille

        Yes, I trust Mr Christopher’s ears more than most but I do not trust to her singing, which has been widely and extremely variable and mostly unenjoyable for me. She has a stolid and petulant presence, other than in that remarkable Falstaff performance and in Ernani. As well, Jamie Barton had no trouble at all with those higher notes when I heard her, on Sirius and once in the house, and there is little doubt that the heavier repertoire has most likely been the culprit in the case of that difficulty. Either that or she had her time of the month: it happens!! Neither one of them had any dramatic credibility whatsoever, either, and doubt that it has improved all that much.

        I heard the E flat before, in 2012 and it was loud and good and didn’t matter a whit. It’s too late in my life to take chances on people: neither the time, the energy, nor the money to waste anymore.

        Have to go drink my Eros tea by Les Frères. Toodles.

        • grimoaldo2

          “Neither one of them had any dramatic credibility whatsoever, either, and doubt that it has improved all that much.”

          I have never seen Barton so cannot speak to that but I did see Meade as Norma at Washington National Opera a few years back.
          Some very nice, lovely singing but never she did come across as anything resembling a love-torn, anguished, vengeful priestess, only as a lady singing some nice music in a funny costume.

          • Camille

            Right. Same here, in 2012. A friend of mine had a very funny thing to say about their duet together in the second act but I DAST not repeat It here. I have seen Barton twice in staged theatre and she does what is directed of her and not much else. I declined to hear her performance in Rusalka, even if it sounded marvelously over the radio, and perhaps she is more adept at comedic action. A wonderful
            voice, in any case, and one which had few problems up until now.

            Yes, I recall your remarks abiut the Alcina you irecently saw in DC. Midgette said about the same so I have no doubt you feel singed by it all, especially loving Handel as you do.

            Right now I am turning my attention to the three Cav/Pags in January coming up with the magnificent Semenchuk and the formidable Alagnas, and hoping it to be a HUGE highlight of the year. God only knows what will happen with the Tosca now!!!
            Ciao!

            • steveac10

              You should have seen the Rusalka Camille. Barton completely dominated the performance. Not only was the singing top notch (and huge), she found that fine line between ominous and camp and worked it for filth.

            • Camille

              Right right right! That was exactly the impression I got over the radio but the opera is about RuSALka!!! So I hesitated as I couldn’t bear gravel gerty singin’ to the moon.

              Just back from the Magical Flute and Miss Lewek did a magical iob as Astrafiammante--I could not ask for a betyer performance of the role and was just thrilled to hear such an accomplishment on this level! Thanks again for all your enthusiastic impressions you have left here on parterre. Such a beautiful performance!

            • Porgy Amor

              That’s a little like saying Charles Grodin gave a good supporting performance in Ishtar.I didn’t enjoy much of anything about that Rusalka, even Barton’s Jezibaba (I saw much more of the camp than the ominousness), but Zimmerman’s “scary fun for the kiddies” production and Elder’s flaccid conducting hemmed everyone in. I agree she sounded better than anyone else, and that that counted for something.

            • Daniel Swick

              Brava Camille!

            • Camille

              Why? What did I do Rong now?

              Confusa io son.

            • Tamerlano

              Nothing, darling! I agree wholeheartedly with your take on Meade and Barton. Bland.

          • Uncle Kvetch

            We were in the house on Friday. My hubby (who comes from a long background in theatre) was not at all impressed with Meade’s acting: nary a trace of the regal bearing that a title like “High Priestess” conveys. (We both hated the production for the same reasons that everyone else seems to.)

        • Nelly della Vittoria

          That Falstaff is the only time I’ve seen her in the house, as it happens, and it really was quite wonderful.

          • Camille

            Then you were lucky with her and I have not been so. The Falstaff, only saw on PBS and I was amazed at the difference in her stage action. Lively, credible, fun, what have you, and singing acceptable. I liked Ernani a lot too, but the rest have been a wash, the nadir that Beatrice di Tenda with Parisina d’Estr in hot pursuit for runner-up and not to breathe a word about Mathilde. Oy.

            No time. Too late. Don’t care. There’s plenty of more lively fish in the lake.

          • Yige Li

            Certainly a lot of credit should go to Robert Carsen for the Falstaff, as the whole cast acted very well.

        • Rosina Leckermaul

          I have always found Meade to be a dull singer--don’t understand what the fuss is about.

        • I completely agree : you are entitled to be Mme. GrouchPantalons on the subject of Angelina in Babilonia. I totally skipped Semiramide (which I like, but do not love) in my ticket selection because Meade was just not a strong enough lure for me (nor Xavier C, whom I love but Idreno is a meh part with meh music), and I share your exact reservations about her voice. You’re correct, an E-flat does not a performance make, nor is an E-flat that cannot “crown” a phrase much of anything meaningful. I suppose I am trying to be optimistic. I shall listen of course, and Barton seems a better vocal fit with Meade than DiDonato , who I hope has regained some of her gamine vocal charm and ease by the time I see her in Cendrillon!
          (Frere Eros is a deliciously fragrant (but bracing as well) choice for this chilly evening) -- ciao for now.

          • Camille

            Oh milady! I heard such a wonderful performance PLUS the high notes tonite from this Miss Lewek as Astrafiammante! She had it all going for her. Please give her a listen on Saturday broadcast this week of Magic Flute!!

            Mist go anon to bed! More tomorrow!

            Je bois à toi!!

            • Bonjour Camille! Isn’t Lewek terrific?! Not since Miliza Korjus (ok, Mme. Dessay at her best) has there been such a QOTN.
              Looking forward to more adventures on the high C’s today! A bientot…

            • Camille

              Well, Milady—!

              Finalmente—I have a chance to catch my breath and catch up.

              “Not since Dessay” is exactly what not only I myself thought but Monsieur Camille said to me as well. (I am talking of her very early in the game Zerbinetta in October 1997 and the Olympias a few months later--thinking February 1998, and not anything later!). That is to say, never such a Compleat musically expressive and assured performance, totally integrating character and music + PLUS the high notes, to form that utopian ideal I’m always in search of and rarely sight. I have hardly ever seen anyone walk the gangplank of Kitsch and triumph in the way she did. The most superb posture and bearing, that of a true diva, plus such musical and expressive phrasing of the words and the diction all clear. The voice did not sound like an exasperated mosquito above the staff in the super acuti. All while managing those butterfly wing pogo stick whatchamacallits, too. To boot, she actually made her desperate plea to Tamino in Erster Akt convincing and sympathetic enough that for once you didn’t feel as if Der Prinz were a dim bulb. They should bring her back and put on the Abduction from the Seraglio, or ANYTHiNG, in which she may show herself more expansively.

              That said, and since she’s sung this in, & I’m counting the program notes—17 diverse opera houses, give or take one or two—she is a specialist in this role and with excellent reason and it may not behoove her to branch out all that much. Why? Same money and this is two arias, a small bit in a quintett, great costumes, and best of all, you’re HBIC!!! Yeay!!! What’s NOT to love???

              Anyway, a happy night at the Grand Ol’ Op’ry House. I loved the geometrics of the set (previously only viewed on PBS by moi) and the rest of the cast all did their jobs well. Tamino and Pamina did well enough without either one of them sounding even faintly as though they were singing Mozart. Better off with other repertory.

              And a final shout out to the marvelous Greg Fedderly as Monostatos, a VERY tricky role to pull off— and whom I remember so fondly as a hunky young Jungling in that fabulous long ago FRohSCH in L. A., tempting our dynamic Dame Gwyneth in her vision. He was so cute, and here he was twenty plus years later in a fatsuit cavorting around in shameless glee as Monostatos. Takes guts to do that.

              I have to shake my old varicose vein ridden legs and get busy now but I certainly hope we get some more of Miss Lewek, an exemplary artist.

              Mariage Frères to the rescue this morning! mes regards et je bois à toi!

            • You are right (as usual) Camille about Lewek. It’s a grand achievement to triumph so convincingly as Der Konigen, notably in the first act aria, which is a masterpiece of vocal characterization -- rarely can a soprano seize that moment so brilliantly.
              I do wonder about her in other repertoire. Some sopranos have an utter triumph as QOTN but can’t get the same result with other coloratura soprano roles. (Although not our beloved Dessay or, to a lesser degree, Damrau.) Look at Erika Miklosa. She got raves when this production (very delightful, I agree!) was new. Couldn’t get any other role at the Met for seven years. However, there is wisdom in your plan for sopranos who have the QOTN curse: do the role, sings the F’s, take the money, and go home!
              I recall a recent issue of Opera News reviewing Lewek in something, maybe Lucia or some other bel canto vehicle, and the review was lukewarm.
              A la prochaine fois ma chere…

            • Camille

              Righto! Take the $$$ and run!

              À samedi et le grand Broadcast de la Flute Enchantée!

  • Armerjacquino

    I didn’t see DiDonato’s ‘neurotic’ Adalgisa, but dear god some kind of decision has to be taken about that part to stop it from being a nice normal girl who has somehow got herself tangled up in the weird sex-and-death games of a couple of nightmare self-dramatists.

    • Arianna a Nasso

      Norma as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? You may be on to something, ArmerJ.

    • Camille

      Bravo, armerjacquino! Adalgisa is in SUCH a pickle. I really rather enjoyed the Joyceter’s interpretation as Adalgisa is such a pushover most of the time or this great big Ebe Stignani type looking like she wandered in from a tour of Aïda in the provinces.

  • PATRICK MACK

    I saw Ms. Meade and Ms. Barton here in LA and vocally they make a very fine pair. Regrettably the LA Opera production was missing huge swaths of all the vocal fiddly bits so we were almost cadenza free. Only one swipe at ‘O bella mia ritorna’ too. Meade is an extremely facile singer and anyone who can sing Norma that easily certainly deserves the opportunity. Neither she nor Barton could be called impassioned or tormented in their portrayals drammatically.

    I think you either get the voice or the drama but rarely both at once. The Stimm or the Kunst as Ethan Mordden used to say.

    I enjoyed JDD’s Adalgisa in the house in spite of the fact that the role does sit a tad too high for her in places. But for what mezzo has it not? It’s not a mezzo part we know that and casting a mezzo is certainly not what Bellini had in mind. Ms. DiDonato can almost make you think she is a soprano from the quality of her timbre. Then the stress starts creeping into the top and you realize she’s short range like Von Stade. She’s an incredibly canny singer though and a actress who can make whole cloth out of nearly nothing (like David McVicar’s direction).

    My first live Norma however Joan Sutherland alongside Nova Thomas and that was spectacular even though Joan was in the winter of her career. They had a beautiful balance and Thomas had real youth in her tone.

    Ah, rimembranza…

  • There were noticeable coordination issues between orchestra and singers -- during Casta Diva, of all times. Angela’s performance didn’t leave much of an impression on me -- her Lucretia Borgia at Caramoor remains her most blazing, memorable achievement to my ears. Jamie Barton’s performance was the highlight for me. Her repeated “Io son perduta”s at the end of her solo sequence caught me particularly. And let me add that she stole last year’s Nabucco with just her tiny final act aria. I heard all three Prima Donnas sing the title role this year -- Sondra, Marina, and Angela. A real delight.

    • PATRICK MACK

      I loved Marina Rebeka and can’t wait to hear more of her.

      • Agreed. Her Casta Diva was breathtaking. And her breath control -- made me think “wow!”

        • Camille

          She sang all of the middle portion of the aria (usually vocalized on Ah! And with at least one breath) all in ONE breath. Even with great technique, that takes great discipline and great know how. Exemplary.

          Although what I called a “Giulia Grisi”
          Norma, she was true to her own means at all times and never took on fake chest or fake place adjustments. Brava.
          In a smaller venue I’m sure it would be even more impressive. A lovely artist.

          • Ah, yes, that’s what I heard that made me sit up straight in my chair.

  • CKurwenal

    I’ve seen Meade live once, in Guillaume Tell, and found the voice absolutely thrilling. I do completely agree that she wasn’t especially insightful or moving, but I thought the instrument was top notch.

    I’ve also seen Barton live just once, in Nabucco, and it was a major disappointment. Not that there is anything much you can do with Fenena, but the voice itself I thought was rather thin and on the small side. I don’t recognise these descriptions of her voice as large or huge at all.

    • PCally

      My problem is that if a singer has nothing but voice to offer, then they should at least be consistent about that aspect. I’ve seen Meade be terrific vocally (Norma at the met, Alice Ford, some Tucker gala performances) but the Tell I saw in concert was absolute dreck, she sounded like late 1980’s Caballe, and the less said about the Trovatore run the better. I also may be the only person in the world who actually saw her one off Countess at the met and it was maybe the dullest performance of that roles I’ve ever seen and not particularly well sung in any way. And even at the good performances, there were pretty noticeable moments where after a something lovey, something iffy would happen, completely disrupting the flow of her voice and totally diminishing her power. The fact that she had absolutely nothing whatsoever to say in any of those roles only compounded the problem.

      I think Barton will find herself best served in the German rep, I saw her sing the hell out of Norn in Munich and a broadcast Fricka was incredible. Haven’t been as impressed in most of the Italian stuff but in the first run of Norma I thought she almost literally mopped the floor with Meade vocally whenever they shared the stage.

      • CKurwenal

        Where was the Tell you saw in concert? Wondering if we were at the same one (Edinburgh) and managed to come away with completely different impressions! I do like 1980s Caballe after all, really quite a lot.

        • PCally

          The Tell was Carnegie Hall, under Noseda. It was an otherwise amazing concert that she basically managed to ruin for me because of how straight up bad her singing was. Crooney, wobbly the louder a higher she went, garbled diction, and embarrassingly dropping out so she could summon her strenght to pound out random high notes. She was also staring at the music basically the whole time.

          We will just have to agree to disagree about Caballe post 1980. I think most of what she did was total filth. Strident top notes, clumsy register shifts, complete indifference to what’s on the page (her Isolde and Ermione performances are maybe the single worst interpretations of those roles I’ve ever heard, she barely knows either of them), no real flexibility of any kind, and a shameful stage presence that goes wells beyond being big. I frankly have never really gotten her beyond her obvious musicianship and stunning sound. Someone with such a wide variety of strengths and stylistic versatility should not have been so content to basically coast through music the way she had no problem doing. I realize that is this is minority opinion.

          • Camille

            PC--Caballé’s pecadillos are legion. The two performances in operas I heard her in, around 1986, were just embarrassingly incomplete and approximated. Perhaps she was best in concert and in recital. Once, in 1979, she was absolutely sublime. Every other time I heard her, including her first recital on the West Coast in around 1971, in a University auditorium and underneath a raised basketball hoop, (and about which she seemed fairly pissed), it has ranged from pretty good to awful. It was exceedingly frustrating — x ten the aggravation one feels with Meade.

            That once, though — made up for all the other junk, I have to admit.

          • CKurwenal

            No, that doesn’t describe how Meade was in the Edinburgh concert performance of Tell -- she was definitely on form and negotiated the part very skilfully indeed without compromises (but yes, it was rather faceless -- enjoyable just as a feat of impressive singing). John Osborn stole the show, of course, because he displayed equal skill but also conveyed a sense of character and really gave a performance.

            Didn’t really mean to get into the Caballe thing -- only saw her live once and it was around about 2001 or so. When I say I love 80s Caballe it’s the studio stuff I’m talking about. Well aware that she carelessly phoned in a lot of performances (and had done in earlier decades too) that featured a lot of messy, sketched in singing unworthy of her reputation. What I enjoy about her though is that, like Freni, when older and things were sounding decidedly less lovely than they had done, she nevertheless didn’t worry about it and continued to plough on through with the voice she had, unselfconsciously. In contrast, I think those who listen to themselves while they’re doing it and start trying to apologise for the sounds they’re making and stop committing to the breath end up tying themselves up in knots and getting into bad habits (early 60s Callas backing away from high notes, Sutherland from as early as 1970 getting droopy and trying to make the sound rounder and rounder). I think Caballe and Freni continued to sing as they always had done and just didn’t worry that the top had got a bit screamy or squally due to age, years of a very busy schedule, stress on the instrument from some repertoire choices, etc, and I admire that.

          • Susan Szbornak

            Couldn’t agree more.

          • John Huizinga

            Waiting for you to turn on your current favorites as they succeed commercially and simultaneously age.

      • Camille

        PCally—you intending here that Tucker Gala performance of the entrance aria of Lucrezia Contarini in I due Foscari, when a few seasons back? Yes, that wAS superb!

        Also, the Mathilde in the TELL in Carnegie Hall with Noseda conducting? That was crap in my book.

        You are correct. If one offers just a voice, do so in a more or less consistent fashion. Everyone has their offdays--their cat dies, their mother dies (Dame Joan on the night of her debut in Carnegie!!!! Guts of steel!!), etc ad infinitum, but when one hears her it is as if it is a different singer each time. I don’t want to spend my energy, time, dollars, mental and emotional space on unknowns and people who don’t know what they are about—at the MET! At a school or a local smaller venue, that’s fine and dandy and I’ll suck it up. I’m not sucking up slop at the Met. Period.

        Just saw yr comment about Barton mopping floors. Yes indeedy. That’s what I thought, as well. No contest there.

        • PCally

          I was actually referring to the Gala where she sang that insane Esclarmonde scene, followed by Pace. That was my first encounter with that opera in any form and I was just taken aback by how ballsy a choice it was for a gala concert and how she managed to pull it off somehow, maybe because she clearly operating at maximum capacity. She just seemed way more checked in and focused than I’d thought she’d been in anything I’d seen prior.

          The Foscari excerpt was stunning as well, but I wasn’t in the audience for that Gala and only saw it after the fact.

          • Camille

            Okay. Yes the Esclarmonde was a ballsy choice — even if not entirely convinced by it and wondered why? It was original but just a tad bit bizarre but at least not boring!

            • Kullervo

              The Esclarmonde scene at the Tucker gala actually rubbed me the wrong way, because it felt like an appeal to the “Meade is the Next Sutherland” meme that was circulating at the time. And with that in mind, it was kind of a messy, showy reading, IMO.

            • PCally

              I guess it just felt like the closest thing to demented I’ve ever seen her get. Again, I had never heard any music from the opera and was kind of taken aback at how straight up bonkers it was. Zerbinetta’s blog called it some kind of combination of the Bell Song and ride of the Valkyries.

            • Kullervo

              It’s an absolutely wild and fascinating role, no question. Massenet even wrote for Sybil to sing a freakin G above high C at one point.

              But like…there WAS a precedent for that repertoire, which is that it was something Bonynge unearthed to showcase his wife. So to me (and bear in mind this is just ME being cynical), it read as less than “wow what an interesting choice” and more “oh. Sutherland. cool, I guess.”

            • Camille

              This ‘n That.

              https://youtube.com/watch?v=XDK7Q1rIARA

              https://youtube.com/watch?v=aI78GhEiexA

              Massenet wasn’t called “Mademoiselle Wagner” for no reason.

            • Camille

              Yeah. That’s what I thought. A new tactic for the time being as she must have given up for then being the next Montsy.

              That’s what I don’t like. Be the best Meade not the next Madame Whatsis. Can’t be done.

          • Nelly della Vittoria

            Youguyz, yougurlz, I just want to say that the Sutherland-Tourangeau recording of that demented Esclarmonde scene was one of the reasons I went opera-mad as a teen — and used to scream Entendez ma voiiiix—AH! out at the Arabian Sea — and if anyone who has the notes sings it, soit Ange soit n’importe qui, I am HERE for it.

            • PCally

              Will shamefully admit that as much as I love Sutherland, Alex Penda takes the cake in terms of pure batshit diva dementia in that peace. Wouldn’t want to ever go up against her

            • Kullervo

              Nothing shameful about that. I completely got my life from this 3 minute clip of Penda being totally-wrong-and-totally-batshit-but-totally-right as Salome.

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wL3xwg1r7o4

              I just love that….she’s *literally* tearing her voice to shreds in real time and yet all I can think is “YASS BITCH SCREAM IT LOUDER”

            • Nelly della Vittoria

              Penda is pretty wild, but the Stupenda performance really makes it for me by being so huge and so finely-made at once, all those mad intervals and trills and witchy ululations tossed off with such accuracy and weight. As so often with DJS, it’s the sprezzatura of the thing that makes art of it. (Though one has to stare likewise at the heedless daring of Alex Penda’s taking it on at 22 — oof!)

  • Camille

    And Another Thing—!

    Niel Rishoi recently stated something about her turning her voice loose in Strauss and Wagner which I found to be an interesting and novel statement, indeed, one which had never previously occurred to me. If she wants to challenge herself, why not Die Kaiserin instead of Esclarmonde, (said to be drop dead beautiful, to boot.) Or for an aperitivo, maybe an Elisabeth. As she is pretty much a stand and sing artist, perhaps this Fach would serve her better? Those trills o’her’n are just a lot of vibrato shaking around to my ears and nothing special. No reason to hang around the first half of the 19th c., pretending to be Montsy or Joanie Junior.

    • Kullervo

      Tamara Wilson did the Kaiserin in Frankfurt a few years ago -her only time singing the role -- and I assumed it foreshadowed a career primarily in Strauss as opposed to the Verdi she’s doing a lot of right now.

      ‘Ist mein liebster’ starts at the eleven-minute mark; I mean, is that not VERY fine singing in this role?
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGHpBpMDO80

      As I mentioned in another thread, I heard Meade at her VERY best as Soprano 1 in Mahler 8 (which she is doing later this season in Rotterdam), so who knows…maybe she’ll give the higher-lying Germanic rep a closer look in this stage of her career.

      • Camille

        Very interesting. She has such superlative higher notes but, as yet it sounded a little not quite formed, or lacked inciveness or specificity of expression and language. Probably as it was just as she was warming up. Leagues ahead of that Tannhæuser excerpt at Tucker Gala. A remarkable instument in many ways and far exceeds Meade insofar as quality. Thanks.

    • Nelly della Vittoria

      Well, when she’s “on”, it’s her speed and virtuosity that keep her in florid repertoire of various centuries, right? I remember listening to the broadcasts of her Anna Bolena some years ago. (Was she second-cast, or second season? Memory fails…) Nebs had faked, shouted and miscounted her way through the prima and subsequent performances, making something of the second-act finale but not much (“Coppia Iniqua!” was dead in the water). When we got to hear AM do it — I think in particular of the furious ensemble finale of the first-act, where she threw triplets and gruppetti in the air (Ah! segnata è la mia sorte / se mi accusa chi condanna!) like arrows — and I did think, at least for a time, at last here’s someone who can sing this music. What’s transpired since then… Well, she’s perhaps had more promise than she’s fulfilled, but this is true of many singers in all generations.

      • Camille

        Nelly carissima,
        Yes, she was second-cast, as she is/was with the Normas both times and I am sure that is not a confidence-booster. Regarding the Anna Bolena as I neither saw it live nor can I recall much from the broadcast, I could not say anything definite. She does not make an impression that is consistently favorable to me, and that is all.

        Besides, there are a number of current singers, including the very talented Tamara Wilson, who, I daresay could show just as much nimbleness in speedy fioriture as that which you heard in Meade’s performance. It’s her inconsistency and putting on of different vocal personas and/or effects which I find so tiresome and half-baked. We will see with the upcoming Semiramides, however, and I am hoping that the elaborate costumes and sets will help her out and embolden her somewhat, as well as the fact she will be the undisputed PRIMA primadonna in this particular production. On verra.

        • Nelly della Vittoria

          Maybe, maybe. I don’t want to make any great claims for her; she is the imperfect singer she is. I’m just tired and a bit baffled by all the commentary (not yours) I see, particularly about this rep., which bangs on about timbre this, vibrato that, right voice for the role, wrong hips for the role, is not a Diva, fuoco insufficiently sacre, etc. etc. etc., all leaving aside the question of who can actually sing the notes as indited by the composer, and who can’t. No point over-praising AM for basic accuracy (“Can sing descending scale, five points to Gryffindor”) but when the singers she’s played second-cast to so often haven’t been able to command it, it’s not nothing.

      • PCally

        My problem is that people keep treating Meade like a promising singer who’s time will come…she’s forty and has been given many chances in the spotlight and with a couple of notable exceptions she’s pretty much evaporated onstage every time I’ve seen her. I’m not the biggest bel canto person in general so my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt, but I think those operas are so singer focused that they work almost exclusively if a singer has something individual or personal to communicate through the music. Meade doesn’t have that at all IMO and she’s inconsistent to boot, which renders her useful at best in this rep. I enjoyed the Norma of hers I attended but the only thing I actually remember about the performance were the moments where she was waving a knife around threatening to kill her kids and there were audience members chuckling in the audience at the idea that Meade would pose any kind of threat to anyone, with or without a knife. That she sings this rep better than many others is on point, but it hardly qualifies her as great. And I’d rather hear Yoncheva and Rebeka as Norma any day.

        I am not a Sondra fan but Meade is hardly that much more consistent than Rad is and say what you will about Rad (and I generally am not a fan) she goes for it and tries to impart something in the roles she sings. Whether she’s successful or not is open to debate (for the most part I’d say no) but that’s still much more that what I’ve gotten from Meade from the vast majority of things I’ve seen her in.

        • Camille

          She’s forty? Oh, I had not recognized that fact and I DO see your point! Callas was OVER by that point, as are many others, come to think of it.

          Hope springs eternal in the bel canto heart, for the next Callas, Sutherland and Caballé, and it is fruitless, invano Alvaro! to hope for divas of one’s past to somehow re=invent, reincarnate in a current crop. Each crop has its own particular distinguishing characteristics and brilliant lights, of lesser or greater value.

          • mirywi

            I heard Alcina for the first time in DC last month and I found my mind eventually wandered when Meade got into the thick of her songs. When you find yourself wondering about getting to train station in time after the show while the name part is singing isn’t a endorsemen. She got the generalized staggers a few times too and pitched herself down onto the floor in a way that was potentially comic rather than wrenching. No of the other characters did that dumb stuff. Her trills were weird too, very quiet and separate from her singing voice. Most of the others really seemed to mean it in that way that keeps you watching and listening but I never felt a thing when she was out there.

            • Camille

              Surely, grimoaldo would be able to commiserate with you on this one as he, too, was there, as was Our Own Opera Teen. Handel is a VERY different style of singing from belcanto early 19th c. and I just don’t get her connection to it, at all. Then, I did not hear it.

            • grimoaldo2

              Yes I do commiserate with anyone who witnessed that fiasco or any part of it.

              “Handel is a VERY different style of singing from belcanto early 19th c. and I just don’t get her connection to it, at all.”
              She didn’t have any connection to it. Or the drama, just displaying a few vocal tricks (“I can trill! I can sing this high note! I can sing a lot of little notes really quick!”
              The whole thing was utterly dispiriting,

      • Camille

        Nelly, “dead in the water”?

        Ich weiss gar nix und chacun à son goooooooo!

        • Nelly della Vittoria

          Plus excellente Camille, I’m afraid I do think a lot of what Anna N does is shapeless goo, but I know this isn’t a popular opinion, and it doesn’t matter over-much. Tell me, have you gone to this Cendrillon confection at the MSM, and was it delicious?

    • Tamerlano

      I would love to hear her loosen up a bit. I have always wanted to love Penda but the delivery is sooooo mannered. She gives the ILLUSION of complete abandon but her singing is very tense and micromanaged to my ears.

      • Camille

        You are meaning La Penda in this case? Sorry, sir, I am really not familiar with her other than something of her formidable reputation. Was she not probably a brilliant young performer who, for whatever reasons, has burned her voice out, but keeps on, keeping on? Or not? I did not hear her Ermione, which was given here at NYCO 10 years ago or so but have heard talk of it. Seems a shame as she is at least not a cookiecutter like so many and is really talented. Perhaps I shall go dig up an Ermione segment and try to listen, espcially with the Semiramide coming up.

  • Niel Rishoi

    I think the reason this production seemed “worse” is that Meade and Barton can’t act, and do not have the physical freedom to do what Radvanovsky and Di Donato did for the first part of the run. McVicar was able to utilize both ladies with complete flexibility, and both of them were outstanding; not just as singers but as *theatrical* actors.

    More people loved than hated this production, one of the best directed and acted I have ever seen of this opera, which is usually horrendously staged and performed. Typical: three bellowing behemoths just standing there and throttling out the music, usually, badly.

    McVicar, though, made this story a compelling, emotionally arresting love triangle instead of the usual one-woman show. The closing scenes were overwhelming, and deeply moving. And the original cast gave their all. Radvanovsky, to my (pleasant, and relieved) surprise, won me over with this performance where previously, long-standing reservations held, rather chronically. I will never forget how she and Calleja, in those last moments, made the troubled love of Norma and Pollione genuinely gripping -- and tragic.

    Meade is spectacularly endowed vocally, but the production of her tone seems constantly uncertain and inconsistent. And I don’t like a gunned vibrato. Artistically, well, frankly I don’t think that essential *sacre fuoco* and dramatic immersion into the musical language of opera is truly there. Dutiful, efficient, but unable to *really* connect with a role. She may not be what you call awkwardly ill-at-ease, but all I see really is a kind of shy, sweet person not fully comfortable as a performer, a prima donna, a diva, if you will. She has been delivering, season after season, but somehow hasn’t really advanced artistically.

    This clip of highlights from LA Opera two years ago, gives a strong impression of how Meade’s Norma has been from the start:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVdSSWB5-Nk

    • Camille

      Certainly neither of them would have the freedom that either Radvanovsky or DiDonato showed in the staging and I would hope their respective stage actions would have been modified accordingly to their means!

      However, Ange was more than capable of inhabiting the character of Alice Ford, and she did a good job of portraying Elvira’s type of Lead-Heroine-in-Despair, as seen on TV-PBS, the house, and in HD. She just notably lacked any sort of necessary gravitas in that Norma witnessed in 2012, as well as the voice being too light and fluttery. Marina Rebeka has a lighter voice, as well, but still somehow managed to convey a certain serious, what with a much better control of her instrument.

      Better an Elvira in Puritani, or a Lucia, which I recall she did in a student production in Philadelphia. Norma calls for very great reserves of a mature dramatic instinct and acuity, something which is not given to every fluffy lirico-coloratura who strolls down the pike.

      • Niel Rishoi
        • Camille

          Mr Rishoi,

          I just don’t know what one would expect me to say and only hope for the best possible outcome in her case, whatever that may be.

          If one remembers that even Shirley Verrett was once booed on the stage of the Metropolitan for her “Casta Diva”, you have to wonder where we have now ended up.

  • Bart Birdsall

    This review of Angela Meade’s Norma is exactly what I heard in the house on Friday. As I read this review I was sort of shocked how similar my experience was. I felt she was 100 times better than Radvanovsky, by the way. She’s not perfect, and I felt her pianissimi are still sort of disconnected to the rest of her voice as if she is changing gears, but overall I was happy with the performance and agree about all Christopher’s comments about the other singers.

  • CCorwinNYC

    The Met has posted three short video clips of Meade and Barton In Norma (scroll down).

    http://www.metopera.org/Season/2017-18-Season/norma-bellini-tickets/

  • Antikitschychick

    Went to see Norma tonight at the Met and absolutely loved it. Meade and Barton were on ????.

    We all know that this was a tough week for Met opera fans but I had been looking forward to this performance for quite some time. Both because of the cast and because it was going to be, and indeed was my first time seeing Norma live. Plus, although I left right after work and drove three hours straight (on an empty gas tank!) I didn’t think I’d get there on time and thankfully I did! And the performance was worth the drive and then some, mostly because of the singing which was outrageously good. I haven’t gotten a chance to read this review or the comments on this thread but I’ll do that tomorrow. Er, later today I guess. Later ya’ll.