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  • Norma [DVD] [US Import]
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Norma [DVD] [US Import]

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 44 reviews
137 of 141 people found the following review helpful
The Most Important Opera DVD in Any Collection 25 Feb. 2003
By Noam Eitan - Published on
Format: DVD
This is the legendary Caballé Norma, a live outdoor performance filmed in the Théâtre Antique Orange in Provence in 1974. Like Callas, Caballé's live performances frequently exceed her studio renditions of the same work. There are several recordings of her in this role. Generally, they are hit or miss but that night she got it absolutely perfect: a true goddess with a voice of an angel floating ethereally. She herself is said to regard it as her finest recorded performance. It is musically and dramatically thrilling. Caballé, who was later accused of being motionless and indifferent on stage, is at her most committed here.

Patané approaches the score as if it were early Verdi. His lead and the response of all on stage give this performance a majestic grandeur with a sustained rhythmic thrust. Vickers is at his prime here. He did not record the role anywhere else. The other soloists all stand out. The tension electrifies the entire performance. Even the mistral (a veritable windstorm) joins in a role of its own to magnify the dramatic effect. It was later imitated in other productions. There is no other Norma of this caliber. It is simply a miracle.
The audio was recorded in one evening and combined with video filmed during several performances, with hardly any lip sync problems. The film has been available from a variety of sources over the years. This one is a significant improvement over previous VHS and LaserDisc versions. Three publishers currently issue it on DVD, Hardy Classics being the best, but only in PAL. It is the only PAL DVD that I am aware of that is offered for sale in North America by one on-line retailer. This reflects on Hardy's reputation, as well as on that of this performance. Amazon offers the new VAI issue, obviously in NTSC. Prior to this issue the only NTSC version was from the elusive Japanese Dreamlife company, for three times the price.
The sound is in mono. I need to emphasize that there have been better audio versions available of the same event on CD. Opera fans that are familiar with them may have issues with the sound. The wind blowing into the microphones presented problems that different engineers solved with varying degrees of success. One should not expect a film that compares with the best of today's technical standards. Rather, it compares favorably with other historic performances.
Despite the technical issues, it is in a category of its own. Many opera fans consider it the single most important video of a complete live performance available.
88 of 89 people found the following review helpful
Just the best thing you are ever likely to see. 27 Feb. 2003
By N. Gallimore - Published on
Format: DVD
I saw a clip from this film many years ago on a late night TV documentary on the career of Caballe. I have been trying to track down a copy for years and so when I saw this DVD on sale in the Royal Opera House Shop (Covent Garden) I snapped it up. I have to tell you it one of the best things I have seen or heard. Gramphone Magazine (March 2003) describes Pierre Jordan's film as "a priceless document in the history of opera.", and that is no exageration. How different from that travesty of a DVD from Orange with Birgit Nilson in Tristan und Isolde.
Caballe's performance is just perfection personified, I can say no more, and Gramphone's comment that "the others in the cast are worthy partners, and that says much, though they all individually deserve more" is so true. Except they deserve much much more, Josephine Veasy makes a very moving Adalgisa and Jon Vickers a heroic Pollione - in fact the whole thing is just superb. On the down side (although this is really not a problem) the sound isn't fully syncronised - but the camera keeps a distance that adds even more atmosphere to this wind swept production and so you hardly notice the pour lip synch. As for the Mistral, for once I welcome it's presence - the production team couldn't have planned it better.
I hope you buy this DVD, and that you get as much pleasure out of it as we have. Caballe describes it as "the greatest single performance of her career", and one can't argue with the great lady. Her Cast Diva is sublime, and it's hardly believable but she gets better and better throughout the preformance.
A wonderful document of a very special night in the history of opera.
50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
A Must See - Must Own Performance! 3 Aug. 2003
By Robert Stevens - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I purchased this DVD after reading an unqualified review of it in Opera News, and I wasn't disappointed. Caballe's perfect use of gentle rubato and elegant phrasing were a revelation and must surely must be how the composer intended the work to be sung, always sounding so natural and movingly effective. One should remember that Chopin in trying to instruct his pupils on phrasing suggested they go to the opera and listen to Bellini! (Chopin admired Bellini to the extent that he also requested he be buried next to Bellini!) And to me, this performance is a lesson in interpretation that harkens back to that romantic age. Comparisons with Callas are unnecessary and irrelevant. Callas herself saw the first commerical release of this performance as a film in Paris, commented on how beautiful Caballe looked in the film, then called Caballe and commented on the performance and "the greatness of your service both to the music and the character." Callas later sent Caballe the earings Visconti had given her on the occassion of her own 1955 performances of Norma at La Scala. Even Callas knew that no one "owns" a role exclusively as has been suggested in some of the other comments. Norma is a noble but dramatically reserved work. But within that style, Caballe shows true passion and fury in her interactions with her Pollione and is so very moving near the end as she pleads with her father - unequalled really, in that scene. The other cast members are not the revelation that Caballe is in the role, but they are good. Vickers is interesting though somewhat unusual in the role of Pollione. The outdoor theater is a magnificant setting and the costumes stunningly beautiful and effective. It was a cold and windy evening, but hey, its a live outdoor performance, and the added virtues of a live performance often outweigh the disadvantages unless one is just seriously limited to accepting only perfectly commercially recorded Cd's. It is not a studio recording, nor represented as such, but the sound is fine enough to never seriously distract from the performance. My God! we are lucky to have this preserved and available!
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
A bravura performance marred by Neolithic recording quality. 10 Oct. 2004
By George Thorstad - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
One could summarize this production of Norma as a bravura performance marred by Neolithic recording quality. To assign a meaningful numerical rating that will help you decide whether or not you would like it requires knowledge of how much importance you attach to sound and picture. For those who cherish their Furtwangler and Toscanini, this becomes a five star DVD, whereas others who feel that the world has uncovered enough great talent in forty-seven years of stereo recording that they shouldn't have to put up with mono sound, this will rate as a one star DVD. As an only Norma, it is less likely to please.

What do I mean by Neolithic? Théâtre Antique d'Orange is an open-air venue and thus the worst place to record an opera video. The orchestra sounds like they're two blocks away and when the wind whips up and batters the mike a dull rumble camouflages the pianissimi. The singers suffer less, but the mono sound rings cavernous and tinny. Poor lighting, usually from two spotlights, leaves most of the stage buried in shadow and the background setting, in the rare moments when light exhumes it, emerges in nebulous blotches of color. The picture too looks blurry and because the lighting comes from the front, the side angle shots introduce further confusion, losing faces and figures in shadow.

Despite the fog of technical defects, one can readily discern an inspired performance from a trio of voices expansive enough to meet the daunting challenge of filling a spacious amphitheater with music on a windy night. Delicately nuanced shading of dynamics, velvety timbre, and winged coloratura---all gild the endearing Norma of Montserrat Caballé. The "Casta diva" in smooth undulations shimmers with sacral splendor. I part company with critics who, deaf to the fortissimo of subtlety, deem harshness essential to expressiveness and dismiss her as all beauty and no emotion, as if the two were mutually exclusive. Her Norma is deeply moving, heartbreaking in the Medea scene that opens act two and the final three pieces that close the opera.

A nimble, graceful, and impassioned voice, Josephine Veasey pairs especially well with Caballé and creates a memorable Adalgisa. At first consideration, Jon Vickers and bel canto would seem to go together like strawberry ice cream and liverwurst. After all, one doesn't light a candle with a blowtorch. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the fiery tenor, who modulates this explosive apparatus of his to offer a robust and satisfying Pollione. Then too, one needs a blowtorch to light a candle on a windswept night such as this.

The primordial struggle of man versus the elements lends this performance an heroic quality---one I would gleefully exchange for a roof, floodlights, and stereo.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
One of the greatest 28 Sept. 2005
By Jay Kobler - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I bought this DVD because I had read that it was one of the greatest opera performances ever recorded. Indeed, Caballe herself had said she felt it was the best thing she had ever done. The actuality more than lived up to the advance notices. Caballe, Vickers and all hands are in superb voice; the occasion, with the winds occasionally whipping at the costumes of the performers, has a unique sense of excitement and accomplishment. This is one not to be missed.
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