06 Jul 2008


The best thing about this set, a Norma recorded live at the Teatro delle Muse di Ancona in late 2004, is the booklet essay by Marco Beghelli, offered in both English and Italian (no credit to any translator).

Beghelli makes no reference whatsoever to the particular performance preserved here. Instead, he gives a detailed history of the opera's early performances and singers, taking those facts into consideration in trying to explain what has made Bellini's opera such a vital force in the art form's history.

Unfortunately, as reviewers are apt to say, this performance only provides glimpses of that greatness, caught through a foggy veil of wayward bellowing and screechy theatrics. Andrea Papi sings a standard Oroveso, dark enough if not truly imposing. Vincenzo la Scola then struts on as Pollione, and quickly the dark clouds appear. His first scene finds the tenor forcing the volume and flailing for pitch. Thankfully, he improves, and the duet with Adalgisa (the fine Carmela Remigio) goes rather well, and he does some fine soft singing in the opera's closing scene.

Fiorenza Cedolins in the title role needs as much time as La Scola to warm up. But Norma's first scene carries a different weight in the opera, as compared to Pollione's. Cedolins has a large instrument, yet she manages to to find enough flexibility for most of Bellini's demands. However, the tone is often sour, and Norma sounds at times like a vengeful harpy even here, far too early in the opera. She manages some affecting moments in act two. The duet with Remigio suffers from lapses in synchronization between the two voices but otherwise goes well. The final scene, as with La Scola, finds Cedolins at her best, with one spectacular floated high note. In the end, Cedolins's Norma probably played best live in the house. As a recording, it veers too much to the side of over-emphatic histrionics.

The voices are very far forward in the super-clean digital mix, with next to no stage noise and only a couple breaks for applause. The conductor boasts a fabulous name - Fabrizio Maria Carminati. The Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana and the chorus perform with more subtlety than the two leads.

Collectors of Norma will want this one. Anyone else who already has a decent set can safely move on.

Chris Mullins