This run had been beset with problems in the casting of the title role.
Nelly Miriciou had been cast as Norma but (it is reported) on the first
night her voice gave out early in the performance and she was replaced
during the performance by Leila Cuberli. By the last performance of the
run (on 28 March) Cuberli had deparetd, Miriciou was in the programme
but, again, Miriciou did not sing.
Her replacement was the Armenian soprano Hasmik Papian. And what a show
she gave us. She had all the notes for this incredibly difficult role,
and she sang them bravely and convincingly. She could send out bravura
thrills when needed but was also capable of great delicacy and subtlety.
Her quiet legato singing in the scene when she was contemplating the
murder of her children was spell-binding. This was a genuine Norma: a
performance to treasure. I note that she has already sung the role in
Washington, Vienna and Turin and is scheduled for it in Detroit, Denver
Almost as good was Irini Tsirakidis as Adalgisa. This was a light
voice, a type of casting I grow and more and more attracted to in this
role. One or two wild high notes aside, hers was a performance that was
genuinely complementary to that of Norma: the final section of "Mira O
Norma" was lovely as the two women sang from platforms outside of and at
opposite ends of the stage.
Hugh Smith was not quite in the same class as Pollione. A big, burly
man, his voice seemed to get smaller and tighter as it got higher.
The conductor was Julian Reynolds. I thought he had a good feeling for
the ebb and flow of Bellini's score: when things needed to be urged on
and when things needed a little more space and repose. He had a good
eye for some of the underrated subtleties in the orchestration and the
Netherlands Chamber Orchestra played quite beautifully.
The production (by Guy Joosten) set the piece around a dress rehearsal
of "Norma" in an Italian opera house - the idea being that the
principals were living out the same 'love-triangle' in their own lives
that they were acting out on stage.
So the chorus greeting Norma's first entrance was a gathering of fans
and paparazzi. She then changed into her stage costume and sang "Casta
Diva" 'in character'. As the performance went on more and more was done
in costume until the entrance of Pollione as the outsider discovered in
the temple: he had changed back into his modern clothes.
When it started my heart sank, but I must admit it won me over as the
performance went on. There were some incongruities but the production
banished the long slow processions that can sometimes mar "Norma" and it
brought the genuine emotional issues very much to life. Some of the
stage pictures were highly dramatic and, as so often, the huge stage and
wonderful technical resources of the Muzieck Theater were used to
I saw and heard a performance very different to what I had gone
expecting but found it a thrilling afternoon's opera.
Ian Graham mailto:[log in to unmask]
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