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Bellini - Norma


Musical Director – Julian Reynolds

Stage Director – Guy Joosten

TV Director – Misjel Vermeiren

Set Designer – Johannes Leiacker

Costume Designer – Jorge Jara

Lighting Designer – Davy Cunningham


Pollione – Hugh Smith

Oroveso – Giorgio Giuseppini

Norma – Hasmik Papian

Adalgisa – Irini Tsirakidis

Clotilde – Anna Steiger


Opus Arte -DVD OA 0959 D

Filmed at Het Muziecktheater, Amsterdam , 2005 – 188 minutes

Norma is very much an opera designed to show off the voice of a great soprano, with Casta Diva the perfect vehicle to display their talents. Bellini wrote it for Giuditta Pasta, it was re-discovered in modern times for Maria Callas, and her recordings, together with those of Joan Sutherland and others (my own favourite being Montserrat Caballe), have kept it in the repertoire for divas at the height of their careers.


This production goes a step further by turning the drama into a play-within-a-play format, with the action being divided between back stage and on stage – it's even a joint set with dressing tables positioned under the druidw' oak tree.


Netherlands Opera only decided to do it because they had Nelly Miricioiu, a soprano of impeccable bel canto pedigree, lined up to sing the title role. In the “extra feature” documentary about the making of the opera, it is Miricioiu who gives her views, and there is some footage of her singing Casta diva at the sitz probe. But the film also shows difficulties arising “I'm seriously allergic to paint” she complains, and on the first night she only agred to go on to “avoid disappointing her public”.


After the interval, Miricioiu continued to act the role whilst Lucia Aliberti, another bel canto specialist and a Callas look alike to boot, sang from the edge of the stage. A full account of the evening can be found at www.lalibre.be/article.phtml?id=5&subid=104&art_id=209979.


In subsequent performances the complete role was taken over by Hasmik Papian who appears in the DVD (although the Miriciou press photographs were not replaced).


Ingenious though Guy Joosten's idea of a play within a play no doubt was, fitting all the romantic entanglements into the singers' personal lives, in practice it seems a contrivance. Having the singers' make-up desks in the midst of the sacred forest is a messy arrangement. There is a much reading of magazines, checking of gift tags on bouquets of flowers and other spurious and distracting activity, and the whole set up is confusing, particularly in arias such as Accola! Va me lascia where Pollione is in Roman costume and Adalgesa in modern dress.


The back stage chit chat works awkwardly with Romani's libretto. When the leading lady picks up a chair in fury and uses it to smash Pollione's mirror “The divine metal resounds” hardly the words that suit her mood or actions. The chorus are dressed variously as sycophantic admirers of the stars or ancient druids, both being on stage at times as in the photograph.


Julian Reynolds' sprightly conducting is the one thing that keeps the show on the move, and the Netherlands Chamber orchestra respond with vigour to give a stirring account of what must surely be Bellini's finest score. The cast is not an especially distinguished one, and the voices don't blend as well as could be hoped, a real disadvantage in an opera with a high proportion of duets.


Norma is well represented in the DVD catalogue, with several alternatives that are more satisfactory than this one.


Serena Fenwick