Customer Review

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A NORMA IN BETWEEN ROMANTICISM AND BAROQUE, 25 May 2013
This review is from: Bellini: Norma (Audio CD)
I have been anxious about this album since it was advertised. I came to hear it with delight and surprise. I guess when Norma was revisited by Callas in the early fifties and recorded by her twice in the studio, the surprise and interest and discussions were as constant and full of energy as this Norma will be.
First thing, the reading by Bartoli does not have the verismo touches added in the performances by Callas, which are the seminal ones of the 20th century. Sure Sutherland or Caballé did great readings, but the Norma by Callas is the gold standard. The dramatism of Callas, her skills and command as actress and singer are a comparison difficult to stand against. And, let's not forget, the cast for the stereo Norma by Callas, in 1960, include Serafin in the podium, CORELLI as Pollione and Ludwig as Adalgisa.
Nevertheless, this recording by Bartoli and her team is really good. It seems to me a little baroque. I mean, it is difficult to turn Bartoli away from her baroque output and the small ensemble for this recording and even some keyboards added in the performance make me feel I am near Haendel or Vivaldi in some moments. Of course, the instrumentation is superb and I accept this version. Indeed, Bartoli, as Callas, is nearly a musicologist. She will have many arguments to justify her choices. And she gets an excellent cast.
To identify if a Norma is good, the key parts I hear are the Sinfonia (instrumental introduction), the Casta Diva aria by Norma, the duets by Norma and Adalgisa, the aria by the tenor and the duo "In mia mal al fin tu sei" by Norma and Pollione and the terrific "Guerra" chorus. All these are terrific here. Let's not forget this Norma is a mezzo, not a sopran. This is a particular originality here. Bartoli does good, she is a great actress and her voice is delicious. So I do not doubt to say this Norma is a revelation. She may not be as despereate as Callas in some scenes, not so etereal in her Casta Diva, but she is clearly in love, she is pain, she is angered. She sings her part with property and she moves me. I like her. She has sung the Casta Diva in her album to celebrate the life of the Spanish mezzo Maria Malibran and I wondered in those days, some years ago, if she will move to sing Norma. She did. She got it.
The orchestration by Giovanni Antonini, who is in the podium does not sound as a big orchestra but as a ensemble or small orchestra section. With that economy or resources he does a powerful reading. The "Guerra" chorus sound as frightening as it should and the sinfonia is dramatic and expressive. Good.
Adalgisa. She is critical for this opera. Sumi Jo is great. She plays well against Christa Ludwig and Ebe Stignani, the Callas companions. She is a gifted singer, perhaps the greatest surprise in this album. I came to know her in this album. No doubt I will follow her. She is first class.
Pollione. He is played by John Osborn. This Pollione is well played. It is not match for Franco Corelli or Mario del Monaco with Callas, but he is a good tenor. His aria is moving and though he is the one who sounds less romantic, he has a good voice and his duos with Norma (In mia man al fin tu sei) and Adalgisa (O va crudele) are very well sang. He is a good tenor and I enjoyed his singing. I did play twice his aria and his duo with Norma. With Corelli I could do that at least four times in a play, but Osborn deserves a loud and enthusiastic bravo.
The bass Michele Pertusi does his part as Oroveso, Norma's father. A small part but very well sang.
Conclusion: I enjoyed it and I bought it. I guess it will be played as a "Norma for concerto" in a small hall, not in a big Opera theather. It is an intimate Norma, moving and very well played. It is not a frightening Norma, but a delicate one, more to be heard than to be watch. I will love if this Norma is turned into a louder format in a live recording.
After Callas version in 1960, this is the second option. As a revelation and revolution. Sutherland and Caballe cannot take appart the shadow of Callas. Bartoli is the first to try to build a new path. That deserves an applause. Opera is art, art is revolution
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Jun 2013 17:14:42 BDT
Last edited by the author on 1 Jun 2013 17:15:09 BDT
Small point, Sumi Jo is not a mezzo but a high soprano, and, indeed, a celebrated Queen of Night. Adalgisa was written for a soprano (Giulia Grisi who also created Elvira in Puritani and Norina in Don Pasquale) so this seems appropriate casting. I am looking forward very much to hearing this recording.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Jun 2013 19:01:35 BDT
O. Guedez says:
Mr Black, you are right indeed and in her essay about Norma included in the booklet, Bartoli says the opera was thought for three sopranos but in dramatic terms Bartoli stands for a mezzo as Norma and a soprano as Adalgisa. In the booklet for mp3 not much information about the cast is provided, so your comment is full of insight. I have made the dued changes after your comment. THANK YOU KINDLY
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