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Subject: Norma: MET 9/28/17
From: Stephen Charitan <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Stephen Charitan <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 4 Oct 2017 17:33:57 -0400
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While some voices are swallowed up in the vast cavern of the Metropolitan
Opera, others sport and revel in the sheer size of the auditorium.  When
such voices take on an iconic “Big Sing” role the emotional and visceral
thrill can be almost tactile.   Such was Sondra Radvanovsky’s most recent
MET encounter with Bellini’s Norma.  I’ve seen her live in this role 3
times and she “owns” it as surely as Callas did in her time.  As impressive
as accomplished “vocalise” can be in Bellini, (I’ve been dazzled by the
Sutherland and Caballe Norma’s live) nothing can compare with a big,
sumptuous voice like Radvanovsky’s firing on all vocal and dramatic
cylinders.  To experience her sound and fury bouncing off the walls of the
house in person can’t be duplicated in front of your radio or in a movie
theatre.

Joyce di Donato was a live wire Adalgisa.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a
singer create such a true and distinctive character in this role.  Friend,
sister, rival, displaying innocence, guilt, desire, -  the bond between
this Norma and Adalgisa was so much more than two virtuoso musicians making
gorgeous sounds – though there was that too.  Yes she eschewed some of the
high notes other Adalgisa's have lunged for but their lack was gone in a
moment, replaced by an artist melding with her character.

There is something the MET audience doesn’t get about Joseph Calleja and I
can’t quite put my finger on it .  The directors take on Pollione was that
of selfish, Trumpian, misogynistic brute, who, to his credit – and in
keeping with the libretto – reforms by the end. Did this negative character
portrayal prompt a tepid response?  Maybe it was his natural vibrato which
some hear as a defect?   Calleja is such an elegant singer with a burnished
masculine sound – he managed to deliver pure bel canto style while not
losing sight of his alpha male status in the triangle.  The duet with di
Donato’s Adalgisa was a high point, with both burning through the emotions
while still following Bellini's line.  Matthew Rose was an efficient
Oroveso if not quite on the level of the main trio.

The production was handsome, literal, and mercifully free of libretto
defying quirks.  The shimmering, dappled forest grove was a triumph for the
MET’s lighting team.  Like Violetta’s “Grand Hotel” parlor in  Zefferelli’s
late (unlamented) Traviata, Norma’s mega yurt could sleep the whole Druid
army.  This was a miscalculation, but Radvanovsky and Di Donato were so
“character specific” that they promptly cut the set down to size and made
it seem intimate.

 Carlo Rizzi led a vibrant, propulsive performance that opened cuts I’ve
heard on various recordings – Adalgisa’s verse in the trio, a reiteration
of the cello solo prior to “Dormono Entrambi,” Norma’s floated coda to the
“Guerra” chorus and a final cry from the chorus sending Norma and Pollione
to the pyre.  It also seemed there were additions to the first Norma /
Adalgisa duet and the stretto ending Act 1.    All of these made sense
given the skill of the cast as well as the tautness of the musical
performance as a whole.

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