Sunday, September 28, 2014

Brilliant Norma Despite Silly Costume and Unsatisfactory Direction

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. 

There 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.

I 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!

Other Related posts on Art · 文化 · Kunst:
- Transcendent Night at San Francisco Opera
- Die Walküre in San Francisco Opera
- Operas in Concert Hall
- Festive San Francisco City Hall and Opera House
- Rainbow Colored San Francisco War Memorial Opera House

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