BELLINI Norma (Gamba)
Hot on the heels of Opus Arte’s release of the Royal Opera’s new Norma, given a guarded welcome by Neil Fisher in January, here’s an altogether more modest version from the Macerata Opera Festival. Instead of Àlex Ollé’s grandly executed updated staging for Covent Garden, the wide open air space of the Arena Sferisterio is inevitably home here to something considerably less complex.
Federica Parolini’s designs nonetheless make clever use of strands of frayed rope to suggest various locales. Rope and scraps of material, indeed, play an important role throughout; you might be forgiven at one point for mistaking Norma and Adalgisa for a couple of Wagner’s Norns. Daniela Cernigliaro’s costumes offer a mixture of grungy druid and (for Pollione) something like dystopian freedom fighter, replete with natty face paint.
Suprisingly, perhaps, the cast has one singer in common with the Royal Opera’s: Sonia Ganassi as Adalgisa. But she seems no more ideal for the role here, despite standing out in such less exalted surroundings. In the title-role, María José Siri shows herself to be the possessor of a big old-fashioned Italianate soprano. It’s a sturdier, more assertive instrument than Sonya Yoncheva’s essentially lyric voice in London, but she’s all over the place when it comes to the work’s coloratura demands. She is also let down by Michele Gamba’s pedestrian conducting, which, along with often rudimentary Personenregie (there’s a fair amount of arm-waving), prevents the drama from ever catching fire.
Of the men, it’s Nicola Ulivieri’s sturdy Oroveso who makes the strongest impression. Rubens Pelizzari’s Pollione is reliable enough, and has impressive diction and projection, but can’t offer enough thrills to make up a lack of refinement. In fact, however much one wishes to admire the honesty of this achievement – and many will prefer, no doubt, its straightforwardness of approach to the muddled concept of the Royal Opera’s staging – refinement and Bellinian style is in very short supply. The orchestral playing is distinctly scrappy and thin (the banda that interrupts at the end of ‘Casta diva’ is almost comically raucous), the choral singing weak.
And unfortunately the dramatic temperature remains generally too low to make up for such failings, or to make this recommendable ahead of Opus Arte’s more glamorous offering. As before, Dynamic also offers us a CD release (CDS7768), which, also as before, is a non-starter in the more competitive audio-only field.