This is a review for the Oct. 20 performance.
I would like to begin this review at the end, since the final impressions, sensations and overall reaction of the audience is the barometer which measures the overall impact of the performance.
In the case of this “Norma,” the final curtain was greeted with a massive explosion of applause in the house. This was made all the more impactful by the fact that for the duration of the Bellini masterwork, the audience had been at its most quiet – there were no coughs, whispers or even the shuffling of papers that one often hears at the opera. The audience was entranced.
The singing was of utmost quality with Matthew Rose as Norma’s father Oroveso, singing heroically in his first aria. He projected the role of authority and leadership, directing the Druids and predicting the arrival of Norma. He sang “Ite sul colle, o driudi” in a very energetic great voice. In the last act, he showed great contrast with his tender emotions towards his daughter, in the aria “Ah Cessa, infelice!”
The great tenor, Joseph Calleja burst into the scene with all the power of a Roman, convinced of his ability to command and control any situation.While he feels conflict over his betrayal of Norma in his attraction to Adalgisa, “In rammentarlo io tremo,” his attitude changes to one of egotistical bravado in “Me protege me difendi.” When he sings his duet with Adalgisa, Pollione neither persuades nor seduces the young priestess: this Pollione imposes his demands upon her and requires her complicity. His attitude and demeanor change dramatically in his final duet with Norma, “Ah! Ti prendi la mia vita,” with Calleja now showing a Pollione that is both vulnerable and fearful. In sum, Calleja confirmed his vast range and excellent skills as tenor and actor with a nuanced portrayal of descent into weakness.
There was also a great ovation when Joyce DiDonato appeared on the stage. It is very nearly impossible to describe the performance of this accomplished mezzo. Her Adalgisa was tender, innocent and loyal. Adalgisa awaits the arrival of Pollione, after the rites have been performed by Norma, and all have left. Moonlight falls over the altar of the Druids, offering a romantic setting for the meeting between Pollione and Adalgisa. The young priestess matched this environment with the romantic intensity of her acting and singing. “Sgombra e la sacra selva” highlighted the perfection and clarity of her diction.
Her performance in the next two magnificent and emotional duets with Norma was superb and her voice was glorious, when Adalgisa confessed to Norma that she had found love. While she portrayed a fearful Adalgisa, little by little her character transformed into a human being filled with hope.
At the end of the first act she sounded implacable and furious in “ Te sull’onde e te sui venti.” Her tenderness was perfectly communicated later in “Mira questi cari pargoletti” during the second act duet. DiDonato demonstrated once again the fluidity and flexibility of her acting and the magnificence of her vocal technique, both of which which permitted her to manage a wonderful legato, a fluent mezzo voice and great high notes.
In addition to her brilliance as an actrisse or and singer, she is an intelligent and respectful colleague. So, in accepting the love and ovation of her audience, she was careful and scrupulous to see that the main character, Norma, also received the adulation she so richly deserved, in both performances I attended. Brava to her for this insight!
In turn, Marina Rebeka’s arrival received a prolonged and frenetic ovation from the audience. She brought great acting and a wonderful dramatic soprano technique to her portrayal of Norma as priestess, Pollione’s lover, rival of Adalgisa, and adoring mother of two small children. This provided a complex drama of religious ritual, romantic lover, mother, bitter jealousy and the controversy of revenge.
In the first act, her arrival on stage is preceded by a group of younger priestesses, and as religious leader, she takes her place at the altar and performs the Druid rites with majesty, elegance, and religious piety. In the aria “Casta Diva,” her legato, diction and belcanto technique were outstanding and its conclusion brought thunderous and prolonged applause.
When Adalgisa seeks understanding and guidance from her friend and leader Norma, the beautiful duet “M’abbraccia, e parla” was interpreted masterfully and with great empathy by the two women.
With Norma’s discovery that Adalgisa’s lover is Pollione, Rebeka is transformed by fury and rage, emphasizing this emotion in “Oh, non tremare, o perfido,” the emotion carrying strongly throughout this act and the final trio.
Norma’s darkest moments arrive in the second act, when she cleanses her dagger in preparation for suicide, then carries the dagger to the bed of her sleeping children, fearful of leaving them motherless at the mercy of fate and Roman society. Rebeka caused fear in “Dormono entrambi,” but once again she transformed her frenzy into the feelings of a tender mother in the magnificent duet “Pallor di morte.” Both Rebeka and DiDonato transported the house with “Sì, fino all’ore estreme.”
Rebeka’s performance was spectacular throughout Act two. As jealous woman seeking revenge, the final duet with Pollione showed an implacable and inflexible woman, who put down her adversary.
Conductor Carlo Rizzi was charged with leading form the pit, providing unparalleled support for the masterful cast. His abilities as belcanto conductor were well demonstrated, and the Met Orchestra offered an unforgettable melodic night.
Sir David McVicar’s take on the opera was a breath of fresh air. While the lighting was somewhat dim, the production itself strayed from the now tired cliché of black backgrounds for every single modern production.
When the curtain rose, the audience was greeted with a forest and one huge tree containing the Druid altar. The lighting director and crew transported us from a foggy day to a sunny mid-day, a moonlit night, or a locale back-lit with the immense flames of immolation. Creativity in the use of scenery transformed the forest to a valley: the trees were moved silently, the transitions seamless in their execution.
The scene changed entirely into a hut when Norma’s lodging was raised up from below, showing a place devoted to family life, resting, cooking, and praying. The hut or dwelling of Norma is decorated with wall carpets, and a big bed on stage left. Behind it is the door entrance that we assume is connected with Clotilde’s room. A stove looms in the back with a big pot, and behind that is the hut’s main entrance. On the stage right there is an altar with candles, and even though that the entire hut has a gloomy appearance, the movements of the actors are quite clear.
Overall, this cast, led by the incomparable Marina Rebeka was quite wondrous in its execution.