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]

Explaining his production of Norma, Kevin Newbury describes the story as being “about the rituals of sacrifice and punishment”, which doesn’t exactly qualify as a blazing insight. Nor does his staging, which is rather bland and empty. However, it does have the merit of making way for the voices to do their thing. The setting is unspecifically ancient, the Gauls sporting tattoos that make them look like a cross between Maori warriors and The Borg from Star Trek. The cavernous set is mostly empty of furniture, though the presence of so many bull-god images is unfortunately reminiscent of a Texas steakhouse. Still, I’d rather have that than see the opera relocated into some absurdly specific reinterpretation and, as I mentioned, Newbury allows the voices the space to work their magic.

And very good they are, headed by Sondra Radvanovsky. Hers is a huge voice, with just the right level of stamina and power for the high priestess, but she shades it down marvellously for some of the more intimate moments, such Qual cor tradisti, and even achieves a level of peace at the summit of Casta Diva. That said, the voice isn’t always beautiful, and she sometimes gives the impression of attacking from below the note, but she is never less than commanding and often somewhat more.

Opposite her, I really enjoyed the voice of Gregory Kunde in this role. He has the power and forza to sing Pollione very convincingly, but there is a honeyed, golden quality to his voice that makes this performance really rather special, with never a hint of the barking the disfigured the performances of, say, Franco Corelli and Mario del Monaco in the ‘50s. If anything, he reminded me of Domingo on Cillario’s recording, which is high praise. Ekaterina Gubanova is a very moving Adalgisa, particularly in her first duet with Norma, and she sings the great scene at the start of Act Two with great feeling and utterly convincing pathos. Raymond Aceto is a capable Oroveso.

Renato Palumbo directs a straightforward reading of the score, and the orchestra play for him in their most Italianate manner. The chorus also sounds excellent. The camerawork is mostly fine, though is too often distracted by a bizarre shot of the back of someone’s head from offstage. The surround sound is also good, if a little too forward-focused.

This probably now takes the lead as the finest version of Norma available on film, though that isn’t saying a lot, as all the others I’ve seen are hamstrung by something very unfortunate that holds them back. Sutherland’s recordings captured her too late, and her Polliones are dreadful. The same could be said for Edita Gruberova’s screech-fest, and the less said about Daniella Barcellona’s aberrant production the better. We can weep that Callas and Sutherland weren’t filmed in time, and hope that Cecilia Bartoli’s famous production is eventually committed to celluloid; but until then, this one will do very nicely.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Michael Cookson

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