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Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Norma (1831) [168.56]
Pollione – Gregory Kunde (tenor)
Oroveso – Raymond Aceto (bass)
Norma – Sondra Radvanovsky (soprano)
Adalgisa – Ekaterina Gubanova (mezzo-soprano)
Clotilde –Ana Puche (soprano)
Flavio – Francisco Vas (tenor)
Original Stage Director – Kevin Newbury
Revival Stage Director – R.B. Schlather
Set Director – David Korins
Costume Design – Jessica Jahn
Lighting Design – D.M. Wood
Chorus master – Peter Burian
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu/Renato Palumbo
Video Director – Jean-Pierre Loisil
rec. live February 2015 Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona
Filmed in High Definition – Mastered from a HD source
Picture format: 1080i – 16:9
Sound formats:
a) LPCM Stereo 2.0ch 48kHz/24 bit
b) DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1ch 48kHz
Subtitles in Italian (original language), German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
C MAJOR 737304 Blu-ray [176 mins]

Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece Norma was last staged at Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona by Francisco Negrin in 2007. Kevin Newbury’s original production of Norma opened the 2014/15 season at San Francisco and here we have R.B. Schlather’s revival from Liceu filmed in February 2015.

Recently at ROH, London, the attention-seeking imagination of directors └lex OllÚ and Valentina Carrasco ran wild. Male lead Pollione, the Roman Proconsul in Gaul, became a dictator of a fundamentalist Roman Catholic order, who ordained women priests. There was an impressive cavern, full of crucifixes and rituals that were suggestive of the Spanish Inquisition and Ku Klux Klan. Traditionalists would be satisfied, I should think, with this staging by Newbury/Schlather. It’s a pretty conventional vision of Bellini’s tragic story of the human emotions love and betrayal, complicated by religious conviction, set in Roman occupied Gaul.

Incorporating sacred Druid symbolism, what dominates David Korins set is the inside of a large wooden-walled space like a warehouse, serving as maybe a hall, armoury or even a temple. Dominating the scene in the rear wall is a large sliding door, which opens to reveal an outdoor view of woods and falling snow flakes. A silver tree is suspended horizontally from the roof, from which sacred mistletoe is gathered. There are two carved bulls heads, positioned up high on wall columns, and a wooden platform is wheeled in and out, from which druid leaders Oroveso and Norma deliver their proclamations to their followers. In addition the opportunity to display fire and flame is never far away.

Evidently inspired by the American fantasy drama television series ‘Game of Thrones’, Jessica Jahn’s costumes look effective. Roman official Pollione and his centurion Flavio are decked out in black leather-look armour over red blouses and thigh boots. The Gaul men wear brown leather, cloth and fur tunics, and the womenfolk have long petrol-blue dresses with sleeves strangely attached at the shoulder. Of the women only the high priestess Norma is permitted not to wear petrol-blue and allowed to wear attractive long and flowing dresses, one coloured yellow, and one in apricot. Most of the folk had a yellowy-green streak daubed at the front of their hair and also tattoos including fearsome head tattoos on several shaven headed men, including Oroveso.

Sondra Radvanovsky excels in the title role as a woman in total turmoil, torn by the constraints of religion and forbidden love. How this fair-haired high priestess, renowned for her chastity, still managed to carry two children (to Pollione) unnoticed through pregnancy remains one of the great mysteries of opera. Radvanovsky’s voice is strong and weighty with a rapid vibrato that develops in appeal and focus as she settles into the role. Her coloratura is effortlessly attractive, demonstrating wide leaps to her top register which opens up stunningly. Her big aria, the rightly celebrated Casta Diva (Chaste Goddess), is ravishingly done and her duet with Adalgisa Mira, o Norma! (See, Norma) is wonderfully rendered with copious amounts of emotion. For his part of ‘love rat’ Pollione, Gregory Kunde garnered significant critical praise in the press. Bellini and his librettist certainly make it hard to provide much character to the role, which mainly consists of mannish posing. Fair-haired and bearded Kunde certainly looks the part in a swashbuckling way, and his voice certainly packs a punch, cutting through the house with ease. From act one Pollione’s aria Meco all' altar di Venere is sung with considerable passion and stirring ornamentation, although, at times I wanted slightly more fluidity and, in truth, a touch more style.

As the dark-haired Adalgisa, a temple virgin, Ekaterina Gubanova makes a lot of her role that requires a lot of standing around. It’s certainly an exciting performance and striking is how the big voiced mezzo-soprano travels so fluently through her registers. The amount of emotion she generates in her act one aria Sgombra Ŕ la sacra selva is laudable. Formidable Archdruid Oroveso is played by bass Raymond Aceto, who commands a considerable stage presence, displaying a rich, sonorous tone, which transmits strongly. In the supporting roles Ana Puche as Clotilde and Francisco Vas as Flavio do all that is asked of them. Under the assured direction of Renato Palumbo, the Symphony Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu sounds in excellent form with what feels like ideal pacing. Revival director Schlather excels by providing generally satisfying movement in an opera, noted for its often static nature and lack of action. Impressive for its natural looking stage activity, the chorus of Gauls is well drilled by Peter Burian.

My disappointment concerns the camera activity, which has pretty much messed up two important episodes. Firstly, in the act two scene and duet (timing 02.21.26/32) for a short time Pollione can be heard singing but he’s not seen in shot. Worst of all, at the terrifying conclusion when Norma enters the pyre with Pollione, he can be just seen at the edge of the shot, in fact, I had to look twice to see if he was actually there with her. Filmed in High Definition, the picture quality is excellent and the two sound options are praiseworthy, too. The booklet has a track listing, an essay but surprisingly no separate synopsis.

Marvellously sung and well acted there is a lot to enjoy in R.B. Schlather’s winning revival of Kevin Newbury’s Norma; making it a desirable addition to a collection.

Michael Cookson



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