Last night, I saw San Francisco Opera's Norma, a bel canto opera by Bellini about love, betrayal and sacrifice - it was a great night at opera, manifested in great singing from all soloists and chorus, and the fine conducting, though the staging was not satisfactory and the costumes designed by Jessica Jahn were though all right for most characters, horrible for the title character, who looked like Snow White’s evil stepmother; at best, Massenet's flighty Manon. The great soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, with her glittering look, was so out of place in this gloom setting and drama, was forced to sabotage the drama she created so magically with her voice, a voice I fell under its spell when Radvanovsky made her first San Francisco Appearance in Il Trovatore. I tried to concentrate but her pale golden dress constantly yanked her out of context and I was convinced that one really needed to see it twice - once with eye open and the other with eyes closed to enjoy the drama and her voice properly.
The singling, though not 100% perfect, was glorious. However, the rich toned mezzo Jamie Barton as the innocent novice Adalgisa was a serious miscast. Her singing was lovely and meaningful but she sounded
like Mother Earth Erda, so formidable, so unshakable, and sounded so
much more mature than the
brilliant voiced Norman; with her repeated bold, therefore improper, caresses of the grand
priestess Norma, I often felt that their roles were reversed, and I was watching a heroic Mere Marie comforting a distraught Blanche in Dialogues des carmélites. When she
lightened her voice up, she sounded appropriately young; but overall,
she sounded just too rich, regal and grand for her own good. A lighter
voiced soprano is much more appropriate for this character. I would
love to hear her in grand mezzo and contralto roles by Verdi and Wagner.
Tenor Russell Thomas, replacing Marco Berti, was another delight of the evening.
I was very grateful for music director
Nicola Luisotti, who manged to make some stretches of Bellini's dance-like ditties, which can be giggle-inducing, serious and menacing; he succeeded here when many others had failed.
The staging by Kevin Newbury
was all right - nothing too bad except for planting Norma on stage
during overture, which didn't give us any new insight to the character,
and effectively destroyed the suspense and magic of the much anticipated
and delayed entrance of Norma. He didn't give much direction to
individual characters or moment and sometimes Norman moved like a bitter, petty and brittle Hausfrau, and the Adalgisa failed to register any shock or even surprise when she
learned that her seducer had fathered two children with Norman.
Placing Norma and her children in a doll house set, when she was seriously contemplating killing them to revenge on her betraying lover, the director succeeded in making me feel that I was watching a puppet play and it was hard to believe that she was really that serious about killing, more like posturing, perhaps to self-medicating and pacifying.
were too much glitters and magic on stage, such as the moment that the
snow (glitter)-covered mistletoe branch Norma cut turned into Christmas
holly. And that was indeed a giggle-inducing moment.
really missed the coherent staging from last production of Norma at SFO
directed by James Robinson, whose direction was panned by most
reviewers but I found it very coherent, effective and moving.
Last performance of the run is on September 30th (Tuesday). Don't miss it.
This production will go to Canadian Opera Company, Gran Teatre del Liceu and Lyric Opera of Chicago, some of them, if not all, with Radvanovsky. I hope that she'll get new costumes before that; after all, this Norman in San Francisco was all glitter and gay, yet her two little sons were practically in sacks. What a mother!
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