BELLINI Norma (Rizzi)
This is the third filmed version of Norma to have appeared in the past year and, for me, the best – at least in musical terms. Unlike its main rival, from Covent Garden, it features not only a compelling Norma but also an Adalgisa in danger of stealing the show as well as her man. In Sondra Radvanovsky and Joyce DiDonato the Met production has two singers at the height of their formidable powers.
Radvanovsky admittedly makes a bit of a slow start – you’ll hear more seamless and melting ‘Casta divas’ elsewhere – but the voice only grows in authority as the evening progresses: firm and focused, and big and beautiful. And it is backed up by a formidable technical arsenal allied to the sort of grand, old-school artistry we see too rarely these days. DiDonato’s artistry here is no less impressive and she’s profoundly moving as a gamine, innocent and big-hearted Aldalgisa, the voice, distinguished by a hint of quick vibrato, employed with imagination and a wonderful sense of bel canto style.
Beside these two, Joseph Calleja’s Pollione (also heard on the Covent Garden film) offers virtues of a less subtle sort, perhaps, and he tires during the course of his big Act 1 scene with Adalgisa. The voice itself, bright and open and also characterised by a quick vibrato, is on robuster form than elsewhere recently, and there’s enormous pleasure to be had from singing of such generosity and ardency. Matthew Rose is on noble form as Oroveso, and watch out for Michelle Bradley’s moving Clotilde, sung in an impressively rich and steady mezzo. Carlo Rizzi’s love for the score comes across in every bar; he conducts the Met Orchestra superbly and they play gloriously for him.
David McVicar deserves praise for bringing out such moving acting from Radvanovsky and DiDonato in particular but the production itself is less satisfying. Robert Jones’s set – a fantasy forest under which is hidden a vast fake-looking hut for Norma’s home – resembles something out of Lord of the Rings, and the director piles in too many of the snarling, overacting extras of which he is so fond. Less here would certainly have been more, and the prosaic production adds little to the poetry of the singing – especially at the close. The camerawork for Met relays seems to be getting ever more tricksy and over-elaborate, too. Happily, though, none of this significantly detracts from some glorious central performances, conducting and playing.