If the length, strength and general hullabaloo of audience appreciation
are criteria for a successful performance, particularly by the
two female leads, then this DVD will take some beating. Despite
the clamour following Casta Diva
lasting for nearly two
noisy minutes, it is to Fiorenza Cedolins’ greatest credit
that she did not respond. Any movement by her in acknowledgement
would have led to even more prolonged appreciative racket - certainly
when judged by the flowers that showered onto the stage for her
and for Sonia Ganassi (Adalgisa) at the final curtain.
Was it all deserved? Yes it was, if you want your Norma full
of splendid contrasts: an imperious but caring priestess and
a loving woman/mother with vocal and facial hellfire and brimstone
The plot: so simple, so unbelievable. Rome occupies Gaul. Norma,
the Druidess/chief priestess is the daughter of Oroveso, the
head of the Druids. The Druids wish to fight the Roman army of
occupation but are held back by Norma. She has had a long-term
secret relationship with Pollione, the Roman proconsul in charge
of Gaul, and had two children by him. He switches his love to
Adalgisa, a novice priestess, who reciprocates it. Adalgisa confesses
that love to Norma in order to be released from her vows. All
is revealed with recriminations in plenty. Norma decrees a sacrifice
to the gods. She and Pollione depart to their pyre.
Cedolins has a magnetic stage presence: a dramatic soprano par
. If I have a reservation about her vocal smoothness
above the stave that reservation disappears
when she reduces to a mere forte
. She brings intensity
to the role which commands attention from her opening recitative.
This is emotion laid bare with vocal size to match; coloratura
and chromatic runs to be seriously enjoyed. When the orchestra
slows to allow her to emphasise her notes and words then who
but the pedantic purist would care.
Cedolins’ flashing eyes, facial vitriol and expressive
body language contrast with the so well portrayed softness and
naiveté of the Adalgisa of Sonia Ganassi. Until Ganassi
identifies her lover, Cedolins can display her protective high
priestess role in caressing sounds. Ganassi is a mezzo bel
exponent. Her wide ranging creamy timbre has some appealing
soft colouring. She also brings strongly contrasting emotions
to her opening recitative. This is a finely honed sympathy-commanding
dramatic performance with vocal accuracy of diction and note.
The balance between the timbres of Cedolins and Ganassi is not
quite as roundly smooth as one might expect. This may be attributable
to the slightly sharper timbre of Cedolins when compared say
with that of Edita Gruberova on the Deutsche Grammophon DVD (
00440 073 4219) where Ganassi again takes the role of Adalgisa
to the Norma of Gruberova. If the dramatic interaction is not
as strong, the vocal balance with Gruberova has greater silkiness.
So to Pollione, but first a digression. If Pinkerton is the most
loathsome male in opera, then conventional wisdom says Pollione
comes second. To me Pinkerton’s conduct is knowingly misleading
which makes it so offensive: but people do fall in and out of
love, so is Pollione correctly put in the same league? Discuss.
Some other time, perhaps.
That Pollione should demonstrate remorse when ‘caught out’ is
self-evident. Whereas Vincenzo La Scola has the notes, he does
not have the dramatic contrition. There is plenty of action but
nothing like the intensity of Cedolins or Ganassi. He has a secure
Italianate lyric tenor but there is no ringing tone to excite;
and in his opening aria effort appears to be needed on high.
He seems to be a sturdy reliable Pollione rather that a passionate
pro-consul moving on to the ‘younger model’.
Andrea Papi is a dramatically assured Oroveso. His actions controlling
the Druids and his reconciliation in the final scene to his sudden
grandparental role are convincing. However, he manifests little
control of his vibrato which seems to become more of a wobble.
A good deep sound but not matched by steadiness.
The Clotilde of Begoña Alberdi and Flavio of Jon Plazaola
are splendidly supportive. In her brief time on stage Alberdi
manages to convey the years of loyalty and indulgence of Norma’s
other life with a well rounded soprano.
Unfortunately the opening set does the chorus no favours. An
effective concept of the Druids underground or in cellars with
the Romans above them but the enclosing space seems to restrict
the sound. When released above ground, so to speak, they come
forth with vocal vigour that is particularly effective in the
If the opening of the Sinfonia shows conductor Giuliano Carella
almost physically attacking the music, it may be evident from
my earlier comment that he ensures the orchestra is fully supportive
of the singers. He varies pace and volume to suit and reins in
any urge to push forward.
The period of setting is conventional with costumes to complement.
Cedolins’ distinguished drapes add to her ability to command
the stage and her Druids. Before she has appeared in her singing
role, the silent involvement of Adalgisa in the early Druid ceremonies
is a very effective piece of theatre making the operatic whole
just that little bit more convincing. That is particularly so
because Ganassi conveys well her hesitation at involvement mindful
of her forthcoming meeting with Cedolins requesting her release.
The DVD is accompanied by a small accompanying booklet comprising
the usual cast and track list with a synopsis, brief background
article, and biographies of the four leads. The acts conveniently
fit onto a disc each. There is no bonus material on the discs.
I have mentioned the Deutsche Grammophon recording. There the
setting is brought forward to a Western style occupying force
with the Druids as terrorists (freedom fighters) armed with machine
guns, pistols and face masks. Gruberova is a mature Norma well
versed in the experience of life. There is more than a touch
of resignation in her acceptance of her own demise. Cedolins
achieves that after passing through younger, more vocally and
dramatically violent resentment.
There are many other DVDs presently available. The only other
one to which I would specifically draw your attention is the
1974 recording of Caballé as Norma with Josephine Veasey
(Adalgisa) and John Vickers (Pollione). It is a Pierre Jourdan
film with audio and video recorded at different times. Notwithstanding
Caballé describing it as her best operatic recording,
I will stay with the rather feisty Norma of Cedolins.