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Subject: Chicago Lyric 'Norma' 2/5
From: David Kubiak <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:David Kubiak <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 7 Feb 2017 18:11:00 -0500
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I begin with an unaccustomed word of praise to the director of Chicago's
'Norma' who wrote in the program that in this opera you cannot impose
anything on the singers, but you have to let them find the most comfortable
way to get the music out, and work around that.  This made for a lot of walk
to the front of the stage, plant your feet, and let it rip, which to me is
in fact an exciting dramatic stylization in the art form.  We were also
spared one of the most irritating habits of today's directors, which is not
to let a bar go by without some kind of irrelevant action by
supernumeraries.  With the exception of a white tree floating in mid-air
this was surely the most traditional opera performance I have heard in a
long time.  May there be more.

People feel strongly pro and con about Sondra Radvanovsky, I know, but I
have been a big fan since I first heard her in Lyric's 2002 'Susannah'.  I
love the distinctive port-like timbre, and you have to know that barn of a
house in Chicago to appreciate the sheer size of the instrument.  From the
start she had a gorgeous pianissimo, but I would never have expected to find
her in her current 'bel canto' repertoire.  She has, in fact worked exactly
backwards to the norm, in moving fairly quickly into big Verdi and then in
her mid-40's turning to parts most singers are then in the process of
eliminating.  She must have worked very hard on her technique all along,
since I did not hear any flatting on Sunday, which was an undeniable problem
early on, and she has made the high pianissimo into a sound I can only call
uncanny in a voice so large.  I think I may have literally jumped out of my
seat a little when at the end of the opening recitative she took the
traditional high A, and did an impeccable 'messa di voce' that was loud as
Nilsson in the middle and soft as Caballé at the ends.  And there were
dozens of similar moments all night.  (I think I have not heard high piano
singing that amazing since a Beverly Sills concert in the late 60's, when
the audience audibly gasped at the last note of 'Vivi ingrato.') People may
carp over some fudged coloratura, but to my ears R.'s Norma was a truly
extraordinary vocal accomplishment.

I did not know the tenor Russell Thomas, and was impressed.  People talk
about 'Celeste Aida' as a nasty entrance aria, but 'Meco al altar' with
cabaletta surely is harder still.  (He did sing the C, and an excellent
one.)  He has good metal on top, and sings very idiomatically with excellent
Italian.  

I am forever spoiled with Adalgisa, since my first was Cossotto -- over
fifty years ago now.  Elizabeth DeShong was entirely adequate, and has an
impressive upper extension, but the voice is colorless and not sufficiently
ample, which was rather cruelly demonstrated when she had to trade phrases
with S.R.  I saw posts where people were trying to find a way to describe
poor Signor Silvestrini.  What came to my mind is that he sounded as if he
were singing from under water.

I had high hopes for the conductor Riccardo Frizzi, who played a vigorous
overture with the now virtuoso Lyric orchestra.  But he pushed the tempi all
afternoon, and would not allow any of the traditional rubato and
rallentando, as for example in the phrase leading to the second verse of
'Mira o Norma'.  At 'Vanne si, mi lascia indegno' the ensemble broke down,
and Norma was forced to sing one measure double time to catch up.  I began
to appreciate what singers meant when they said that they always knew no
matter what James Levine would be with them.

A number of traditional cuts were restored, including one in the finale
where the chorus continues singing after the principals' final B flat.  I
wish they had kept the stretta of the big trio, since S.R.'s high D was
definitely secure enough to make it through to the end.

One last thought.  'Norma' really is a very great opera -- it's no wonder it
forced even Wagner to admire it.

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