21 Apr 2008


This production offers a different view of Norma. As Stage Director Guy Joosten explains in the introduction on the first of a 2-disc set, he wanted to give the audience “more” of what he believes the modern audience expects.

The video opens with an Italian tenor arriving at the opera house to sing Pollione. He is dressed in mid-20th century garb. When he turns on the speaker in his “dressing room,” we hear the familiar opening notes of Norma. Our tenor proceeds to unpack his makeup bag and to gaze happily at an opera fan magazine on which his face graces the cover. His female dresser comes in leaving the armor that he will wear on the stage as Pollione, along with some red roses that apparently have been sent to him. Others arrive and chat with him as well and, of course, they all get to see the magazine cover picture.

A large fallen tree dominates the stage, with its tall root structure resting on a shiny black floor. The older soprano arrives in all her Diva glory…..dark glasses, a fur wrap over her silver trench coat. She poses for pictures and signs autographs for her adoring fans.

Our younger singer comes in and begins to prepare to sing Adalgisa only to find a bouquet of red roses on her dressing table. It is the same bunch of flowers that our tenor had received which he left for her after removing the card. Do we begin to get the picture ….. our Italian tenor is a bit of a cad!

But this is a production of Norma and little by little our principals don at least partial period costumes as they begin to take their places in the opera. With the trappings of the modern day story always present in things like the ultra-modern looking dressing tables and racks of street clothes visible, the traditional opera unfolds.

As Pollione’s problems—his affairs with two women—inevitably come to light, we finally see Hugh Smith as Pollione and not as the Italian tenor. It took him awhile to warm up, which resulted in a strained top. But his sound improved as the performance proceeded.

Romanian-born Nelly Miricioui was cast to perform the role of Norma; however, for a variety of reasons, Hasmik Papian assumed the part on short notice. Her Casta Diva is not a show-stopper; but it nicely sets the stage for what is to come. Norma is a demanding role, which Papian performed with aplomb. She clearly understood Norma (the traditional Norma). She could be angry, remorseful, sad and regal when it was called for and seemed to move through the moods of this complicated woman with grace both vocally and as an actress.

Irini Tsirakidis, Adalgisa, was a nice surprise. New to me, Tsirakidis brought this character to life. Adalgisa is in the most impossible position, with her challenging role being both musically and dramatically interesting. It is important to me that this role work well for this opera to achieve its full dramatic impact.

Giorgio Giuseppini as Orovesco was a bit woolly and wobbly. Nevertheless, this fit his character as an elderly gentleman. And, of course, he does not have much to do other than stand around and sing.

Carol Bosi as Flavio performed well, although the part is little more than window dressing. His presence is only necessary so Pollione can talk about his women problems but not much else. Bosi possesses a pretty sounding instrument.

So the tale moves on to its sad ending when Norma and Pollione are to die together by mutual consent. The scene is beautifully sung by all. As Norma and Pollione are about to walk into the fire, they are back in their Italian tenor and aging soprano clothes. Why? Who knows. Instead of going off with Norma, Pollione takes one last step back toward Adalgisa. But Norma proceeds to walk off stage to her plight and the curtain comes down. Strange….yes. Are we supposed to think that he might not follow Norma?

If you are interested in this DVD I suggest viewing the introduction on Disc 1 first. The discussion by the stage director and conductor Julian Reynolds makes all the difference in attempting to understand what they were trying to do with this bel canto masterpiece.

Norma stands alone for me. It does not need updating or additions to sustain it. But this is not an uninteresting reading of Bellini’s work. I wonder how he might have felt about such a production.

Cheryl Dowden