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Vincenzo Bellini: Norma
18 May 2010

Bellini's Norma at Gran Teatre del Liceu

Some fortunate operas have any number of fine live versions available on DVD.

Vincenzo Bellini: Norma

Pollione: Vincenzo la Scola; Oroveso: Andrea Papi; Norma: Fiorenza Cedolins; Adalgisa: Sonia Ganassi; Clotilde: Begoña Alberdi; Flavio: Jon Plazaola. Liceu Grand Theatre Chorus and Symphony Orchestra. Giuliano Carella, conductor. Francisco Negrín, stage director. Anthony Baker, set design. Jonathan Morrell, costume design. Recorded live from the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona 2007.

ArtHaus Musik 101465 [2 DVDs]

$35.99  Click to buy

Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma, however, is not one such. Many would agree with your reviewer that the best choice is the famed recording made one windy night in Orange, with Montserrat Caballe and Jon Vickers. Neither sound and video for that version can be called excellent, but such is the power of the performance that allowances are easily made. Over three decades later, there is no real rival. And this latest recorded staging, from Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu in 2007, poses no real challenge.

Stage director Francisco Negrin does conventional work with the singers, who are trapped in the monolithic and monochromatic sets of Anthony Baker. Tradiotionalists will bemoan the lack of greenery for this story of the Druids under Roman control; indeed, Negrin and Baker see the Druid’s world as blue-tinged. After an opening chorus which seems to be taking place in some turquoise-tiled Turkish bath, the stage picture settles in as two or three intersecting stone walls sections of towering height. With almost no props — so that sleeping characters, as is becoming almost a cliche, repose on the stage floor — Negrin needs a cast of physical singing actors to bring the drama to life. He doesn’t have one.

Fiorenze Cedolins as Norma has the regal bearing, but both her vocalism and her characterization are one-dimensional. In her singing she offers a steady emission of sound, and for acting she lifts her head and peers down at the lesser beings around her. She evokes no sympathy. Sonia Ganassi makes for an attractive Adalgisa, and the famous act-two duet with Norma earns both leading ladies a happy Barcelona audience’s fervid applause at final curtain. Their rivalry and reconciliation might be more powerful if the man at the heart of the triangle were performed more charismatically than Vincenzo La Scola can manage. Negrin can’t do much more than let him grimace and stride purposefully, and the tenor’s instrument sounds dry, if powerful enough. Andrea Papi’s Oroveso barks at the moon like an old Druid dog.

The Liceu forces play beautifully for conductor Giuliano Carella, who does try to produce musically the dramatic force missing from the stage action, even getting a bit manic in the overture. Arthaus Musik spreads the performance onto two discs, but there are no special features. Caballe and Vickers in Orange remain the artists to go to for a powerful Norma on DVD.

Chris Mullins

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