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Subject: MET Opening Night - Bellini's Norma
From: David H Spence <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:David H Spence <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 26 Sep 2017 02:30:43 -0400
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What a depressing evening!  I tuned in this evening with fairly high hopes for at least a 
decent performance of what is one of my favorite works in the repertoire.    I've heard 
Sondra Radvanovsky sing portions of the title role quite acceptably, with good tone and 
lovely phrasing, but there was much that was lacking this evening.  

The conducting of Carlo Rizzi rarely lifted itself above being mediocre.  Support for his 
singers was adequate for much of the evening, but the encouragement of his Norma to clip 
her way through a cabaletta at the end of Act One robbed the passage of feeling any more 
than the least bit climactic.  The skippy approach to the marcia choruses, rushing them, 
further trivialized the music and the context within much of the rest of this opera should 
musically take place.   The cello section dominated introduction to Act Two - to a scene that 
featured some of La Rad's best singing this evening, was a notable exception to how much 
of the evening went, as was also the excellent solo flute introducing 'Casta Diva.'  Rizzi then 
awkwardly flat out ignored the change in dynamics in the string accompaniment from 
introduction to the aria itself.

Radvanovsky's voice throughout Act One had a hooded quality to it, helping make for 
droopy tone and phrasing, smudged coloratura and sour high notes.  Tendencies to sneak in 
breaths, and to back phrase, turning during Act Two the reach for pianissimo high notes 
very whitish. One serious disadvantage was the lack on stage of there being a real Pollione.  
The Flavio of Adam Diegel at times seemed to carry equal weight with the attempt at a 
Pollione by Josef Calleja.  'Meco all' altar' lacked heroism, of which a lyric, such as Carlo 
Bergonzi on an old Met broadcast with Sutherland, is capable, but requiring most of the 
secure musicality Bergonzi brought to it.   High notes from Calleja were loose, at times flat 
and all the phrasing lacked anything resembling any specific profile.  

Puzzling as well was the lack of any sense of communication with either one of the two 
female leads on stage with him.  The dramatic purpose of 'In mia man' towards the end of 
Act Two was almost entirely lost, except in part from a sullen sounding, acting Sondra.  The 
almost constant change of vocal placement on Calleja's part during hte following passage 
every two or three notes almost verged on self-parody  With Rizzi holding all his forces 
back, Calleja, above a baritonal sounding Oroveso, riding the crest of the line became 
almost inaudible.  

Joyce di Donato probably. offered the best singing of the evening and helped, encouraged 
Radvanovsky to better open out for the duets together with her.  Di Donato sounded best as 
Adalgisa while keeping her tone reasonably light.  Introducing what sounded like at times a 
few feminist accents into the handling of text and phrasing became a little insipid, vulgar 
however.    Radvanovsky will probably improve as opening night jitters fade away.  
However, there seems, perhaps in terms of the new David Mc Vicar production, to be so 
little to work with here.  Except from di Donato for a good number of phrases, there was a 
patchy quality to legato all evening, and not much happening from the orchestra pit to 
support anything to go on any better than this.  

What drives the characters on stage and should it require looking at them, close-up or not 
to find out?  Such is needed to be able to fill out long extended phrases and line to make 
any of this piece meaningful.  What alternative aesthetic profile does this production have to 
offer to make Bellini's Norma anywhere near as compelling as what was the  intent of its 
composer from the get-go?    A good modernist, even a good dark modernist production is 
capable of taking all this into account and milk out more passion than the tired sounding 
vocalizing I heard for much of this evening.   Is there a work where the acting is more in 
the voice than in Bellini's Norma, as then to make the voice then the first place to go look?  

Not to worry,  HGO's Norma, with how it is cast and how it will be conducted, in already on 
dvd a notably shitty production by Kevin Newbury has nothing better to offer than the Met 
put on with an entirely different cast tonight. 


David H Spence

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