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
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
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
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.