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Subject: Re: MET Opening Night - Bellini's Norma
From: David H Spence <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:David H Spence <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 27 Sep 2017 03:38:04 -0400

text/plain (98 lines)

I just happened to be surfing around on youtube, starting off with one or 
two excerpts from the Orange Norma - not to be confused with the Orange 
drama queen now situated in Washington DC - with Caballe and Veasey, 
both very fine, when I stumbled across the 1974 Tokyo concert by Callas 
and Di Stefano, during I guess what was the second year of their world 
tour together - for which Caballe filled in for Callas during its last several 
cities or stops.  Both Callas and di Stefano, very ingratiating both of them 
to their audience, have a little trouble hiding saying non-verbally, 'what on 
the heck are we doing here?'

Everybody has heard of how sad the results of this late-career comeback 
was, and indeed in a number of ways it was.  Di Stefano's voice is certainly 
ugly anymore, but one does not get from him every three or four notes the 
fishing around for where to place the voice I encountered from another 
tenor last night.  Calleja still possesses a lovely tone for a handful of notes 
in the middle register and a lovely head voice, but where may have any of 
that been connected to much anything else, at least for Pollione?  

And then to hear the nobility of profile, nobility of utterance, simplicity of 
expression for Luaretta's aria from Schicchi, regardless it does not require 
all that to near the degree Norma does - and even still intermittently some 
convincing colors as well.   Even Adina's lines, scorning Nemorino from Act 
One of Elisir ......  That today might be a really good part for Radvanovsky, 
once she might have put some thought into it.  The fire, the fully 
authoritative stance, the warmth with which Bellini's music infuses Norma 
is not convincingly there in full without the above.  One can not stop with 
merely suggesting it.

One online critic mentioned La Rad, during overall a more satisfactory 
second half than the first, sounding fussy for some closing passages to the 
opera.  With so much more overt fussiness from her tenor, one just has to 
wonder why!  And then combine that with the cluelessness (apparent to me 
from just listening last night before I read anybody's comments) of the 
stage direction (other than what Sondra and Joyce were able to figure out 
for themselves) and the too often sterile, glib musical leadership from Rizzi, 
almost enough to make Richard Bonynge blush.  And at times especially 
during Act One the tendency to have to in effect walk, vocally speaking, on 
eggshells, to avoid emitting tone  more hooty, sour, shaky in intonation, 
lacking in convincing legato than it already was - and then what?  So very 
much last night just seemed to militate against what really should occur.

Sondra handed us some sense of what the words mean to her 'Sediziosi  
voci' and of the music to convey such meaning, but here one is scrupulizing 
more than one, more than I should have to. Bellini does so much to 
prepare one for this passage, it goes without saying.  There should be 
more than sufficient command evident, I mean, that one should not be for 
a nanosecond be able to think of one's cell-phone, much less be tempted to 
look at it, or at one's grocery or laundry list or whatever.  

Why all the fuss on my part over observation of dynamics for 'Casta Diva' 
from the pit?  I was asking myself this last night.  Put on the 1960 Callas 
recording with Serafin (the one that also stars Franco Corelli) and listen to 
how she so very subtly tapers off the ending of each long phrase as to 
make almost the entire line float or levitate.  How anyone could get 
anything backwards in handling such a passage after hearing this has to 
beggar disbelief.  

One praised this Norma production, new at the Met, for having shed so 
much supposedly clichéd grandiloquence that frequently envelopes the 
piece, and other than in singing Norma, can turn things a little bombastic 
in the wrong hands.  I do not care in the least I may sound a little socially 
incorrect here, but please, let's have it back.   The opposite of having this, 
especially these days can equally be a cliché.  This is not Recital One for 
Cathy here, after all.  The topic is Bellini's Norma.  A few moments last 
night were bombastic as well.  Should we want then an intimate Norma, 
perhaps we should take after Peter Brook's example - La Tragedie de 
Carmen, which leaves out all the choruses.  Would that not be something, 
other than to save expense on stagehands and other personnel.  

One more thing and that is the line 'Son io.'  The only way this brief line is 
really effective is that you, out in the audience, are mostly to fully 
convinced whose character in whose presence you've been for nearly a 
couple of hours already, even regardless the distraction of having the two 
children and/or Adalgisa show up when and where they are not the least 
bit expected.  A soprano can hold onto the G in 'Son io' for five minutes or 
what seems like it, I suppose, given she has the breath control, and it still 
is not going to convince anyone of much of anything.

In all fairness to Callas and Di Stefano and to those who still remember 
them, their farewell tour may not have been so bad after all.  Anything 
further to say, other than to repeat that the part of Norma requires literally 
everything of a singer, I am at a loss for words.

David H Spence

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