BWW Review: Radvanovsky is a Blazing NORMA, DiDonato Shines in New Met Production
The trio of soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, mezzo Joyce DiDonato and tenor Joseph Calleja promised a fine evening of singing for the Met's new NORMA and, for the most part, there wasn't much to quibble about. Too bad Sir David McVicar--and his design team--couldn't come up with something a little bolder, a little braver, a little more inventive than wandering trees and a giant lair that looked like an oversized igloo in the off season to anchor its new production.
NORMA (Radvanovsky) takes place in 50 BCE, with the Druids--a pre-Christian order--at odds with the Romans and seeking revenge against their oppressors, under the leadership of Norma's father, Oroveso (bass Matthew Rose). As fate would have it, the title character, the high priestess, has fallen in love with Pollione (Calleja), the Roman pro-counsel, and has borne him two sons.
Everything is secretive but happy until Pollione falls in love with a Druid novice, Adalgisa (DiDonato) and decides it's time to ditch Norma. Neither Norma nor Adalgisa know the other is in this triangle with Pollione. When they discover the truth, Adalgisa decides to send Pollione back to Norma--but he's having none of it. Furious, Norma urges her people to attack the Romans. Pollione is captured but Norma promises his release if he gives up Adalgisa. He refuses and she declares that a guilty priestess must die, which everyone assumes is Adalgisa but, in fact, Norma decides to sacrifice herself. Pollione is so moved that he decides to share her fate and they go off to their blazing pyre.
Radvanovsky is no newcomer to the role at the Met and she knows very well how to finely negotiate her way around the role, particularly in its most famous music ("Casta diva" and the "Mira, o Norma" duet) despite the production. She was dramatic and angry and forgiving as called upon, with enviable breath control and wonderful camaraderie with DiDonato.
Despite the fact that the Bellini opera comes under the "bel canto" banner ("beautiful singing" is how it's usually translated), "beauty" is not necessarily one of the forgone conclusions that one expects from the opera. After all, even Callas's great performance--alas, only known from recordings to most of us--was not exactly vocally alluring even as it thrilled us. Radvanovsky has a certain graininess to her voice that somehow manages not to detract from its appeal and certainly I was happy to have heard her. (Audiences will get something quite different when Angela Meade takes over the role later in the season, but the audience was happy to have heard Radvanovsky's take on it, and I can't argue with them.)
DiDonato's Adalgisa appearance--with her pixie haircut--was a distinctive contrast as the novice to Radvanovsky's high priestess, but she was no lightweight in the role and her acting is as terrific as her singing. There may have been bigger voices as Adalgisa, but few that brought greater feeling than DiDonato did to the role. As Pollione, Calleja brought a big voice and thundering testosterone to the stage. If he sometimes seemed to be marshalling his voice for the more dramatic moments, it could be forgiven because of the great overall effect of his performance.
Bass Mathew Rose brought significant impact as Oroveso, managing to combine beautiful singing in his two arias with the forcefulness to lead his men to action. As Pollione's companion, Flavio, tenor Adam Diegel made a fine impression, as did soprano Michelle Bradley, as Norma's au-pair Clotilde (though it's hard to believe that this is the role where Joan Sutherland made a splash singing opposite Callas's Norma in London). Gavin Kline and Hunter Kline were delightful as Norma's children
Carlo Rizzi led a fleet performance with the Met orchestra and the wonderful chorus, under Donald Palumbo, was up to its usual high standard.
As alluded to earlier, I'm not a fan of this new production from McVicar, with set design by Robert Jones and lighting by Paule Constable--I particularly missed any sense of intimacy for Norma and Adalgisa in their duet--but as long as the quality of the singing is high, it's something we can live with. The costumes by Moritz Junge were better, however, and Leah Hausman's stage movement kept the huge cast in good form.
NORMA has traditionally been considered one of the most difficult operas to cast because of its vocal demands. Yet, today, there doesn't seem to be a lack of sopranos (and even mezzo Cecilia Bartoli) ready to take it on. That's a good thing, because it is filled with gorgeous music and potent drama that can bring an audience to its feet. And it's also enough of a novelty that the Met won't hear audiences crying "that old thing" when they see it on the schedule.
Radvanovsky will sing the title role in NORMA on October 3, 7mat, and 11, with DiDonato as Adalgisa; the Saturday, October 7 matinee performance will be transmitted worldwide as part of the Met's 'Live in HD' series, which is now seen in more than 2,000 movie theaters in 73 countries around the world.
Marina Rebeka will appear in the title role with DiDonato on 16 and 20; Angela Meade and Jamie Barton will take on Norma and Adalgisa, respectively, on December 1, 5, 8, 11 and 16mat.
Running time: 3 hours and 4 minutes, one intermission. Curtain times vary: complete schedule here.
Tickets begin at $25; for prices, more information, or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or visiting www.metopera.org/groups.
Same-day $25 rush tickets for all performances of NORMA are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the Met's Web site. Tickets will go on sale for performances Monday-Friday at noon, matinees four hours before curtain, and Saturday evenings at 2pm. For more information on rush tickets, click here.