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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 28 January 2011
Montserrat Caballé had one of the most distinct and beautiful voices of the last century. There is good reason why she was named "La Superba." She was never known as a great physical actress but here she is in great form. It may not be the great acting of Callas or more modern interpretations but it never detracts from the most important fact that Caballé acts with her voice quite unlike any other.

There will always be detractors of this great lady but though the quality of the DVD itself is disappointing this is one of her greatest performances, and it is her personal favourite.

Caballé was the only singer who Callas saw as a successor to herself in this role, and Caballé sang the role of Norma to huge acclaim throughout the 1970's. This live performance with the wind billowing costumes adds to the drama and sense of occasion. The interpretation of Casta Diva, with Caballé's awe inspiring breath control, is something of rare beauty which should be cherished.

This is an absolute delight!!!
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on 20 November 2010
This DVD has attracted only two reviews on the UK website, both very positive. It has presumably sold well in the US as there are no less than 30 currently in place, the vast majority being 5* with only a few not liking it. I regret that I have to join the ranks of the few.

Let's start with the technical issues. The recording was made in the Roman theatre in Orange in southern France. Naturally it was out-of-doors and, as others have commented, the Mistral was blowing at the time. Inevitably the microphones picked up a fair amount of noise from the wind and the singers' robes and headdresses can be seen swirling about. Personally, I don't have a problem with this - it adds an expressionist touch to the turmoil of the plot and is a constant reminder that this is a live performance. But, additionally, the sound quality itself is poor. The orchestra sounds very thin. With the singers the main problem seems to be the placing of the microphones as the volume and balance vary wildly and there is a distortion at times. In the first act trio comprising Pollione, Norma and Adalgisa the two women are almost drowned out by the tenor. Not their fault, I think: this is simply a question of balance. There are also, at least on my copy, two occasions when the sound simply disappears for about half a second or so, fortunately not in places where it matters.

The video quality is also poor. In fairness it has to be said that the lighting is basic and the individual singers appear mainly in single spotlights. This creates a great deal of contrast which any medium will struggle to record well but even by the standards of forty years ago this picture is not good. Even the opening titles aren't sharp!

All of this might not matter too much if the performance itself was artistically satisfying. And here I part company with nearly all of the previous reviewers because I don't think it is.

The production is a traditional one in that it doesn't update the setting (good). The sets are pretty minimal which is fine, and not surprising, given that nearly all of the action takes place at night. The chorus are dressed in white robes which look vaguely Biblical rather than Druidical but that's OK. I don't know what Norma's dress is meant to be (see the picture on the front of the box) but it looks more 19th than first century. Orovese (Norma's dad) and Adalgisa look fine in their robes. Pollione is dressed in armour as if he were a centurion, not a proconsul (which is a political rôle, not a military one). And surely even military men don't wear their armour all the time! This is one of several minor details where I find the director has not bothered to follow the libretto. Two more examples will suffice. Before Norma makes her first entrance the chorus tell us that she is to cut the sacred mistletoe with a sickle. When we see her - no mistletoe, no sickle. Perhaps she put them down somewhere. And in the last act she tells the Druids, who have captured Pollione, to untie him when he isn't tied up at all.

But what about the performers themselves? Starting with the best, I find Agostino Ferrin as Orovese to be convincing in his small rôle; he sings very well. Jon Vickers is not the sort of singer one would expect to take on a bel canto part but he acquits himself quite well as a bluff no-nonsense soldier who simply cannot cope with emotional problems (except that he's not supposed to be a soldier...). Josephine Veasey as Adalgisa is OK although her histrionics are very much in the village hall am dram tradition.

And Caballe as Norma? I found her to be disappointing. Some of the time she sings beautifully eg in "Casta Diva" but too much of it is unemotional. On the Amazon.com site you will find an amusing little spat between a reviewer and a commentator as to whether she sings in tune. I am afraid that I side with the reviewer and to my ears she is frequently noticeably flat, especially on lower notes (Veasey isn't completely beyond reproach in this respect, either). This might not matter so much if you're at a live performance but it becomes a problem with repeated viewings. And her acting? What acting? Caballe doesn't act convincingly either vocally or with her body. In fact the one time she shows a flash of emotion is right at the end when she displays anger and disappointment with Pollione. This is quite a shock after what had come before, and shows what she was perhaps capable of doing. And as for the scene when she is considering killing her children - well, I have rarely seen such unconvincing and mechanical gestures on the professional stage.

Having said all of that I must add, in fairness, that the audience seemed to enjoy it greatly judging by the amount of enthusiastic applause.

There are no extras with this DVD. The liner notes are very perfunctory and the packaging is flimsy. Not that this matters much, of course, but when you are forking out nearly thirty quid you do expect better than this.

In fact my main gripe with the thing is that it is grossly overpriced. If it were issued at something well under £10 as a historical curiosity for punters to buy in addition to another, first choice performance, then it would be understandable. But when you are paying top whack you expect something which is artistically satisfying and of at least passable technical quality. Sadly this DVD fails badly on both counts so far as I am concerned.
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on 12 October 2013
It is one of the best Norma that I have ever seen. The many good qualities of the work performed by all the involved contributors (not only singers and conductor) largely override the limitations related to the early age of the video technique. For me, the "limitations" of a windy open stage often become an enrichment, from the emotional and dramatic point of view. It is also an important document, and not only for opera lovers.
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on 11 September 2013
I realise that given the date when this was recorded one cannot expect miracles, and there is no doubt that Caballe's performance is a joy, despite the bad lighting, dreadful camera work, high winds and obvious loss of quality during the transfer from tape to DVD. It didn't help that my disc develops a bad attack of hiccups just before the end of the first half, which don't disappear until just before the end, and the picture keeps freezing for a few seconds. This may not happen on all copies. I'm in two minds - the recording is not good, but the performance is superb. You pays your money and you takes your choice.
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on 28 May 2014
I must start by saying that I am HUGE Sutherland fan - for me she can do no wrong, even though I accept that she wasn't always perfect. But the beauty and strength of her voice, the agility, and the security of her mind boggling top notes - no other singer can come close. I have always seen her as the at the absolute top of the list of 20th century singers - the pinnacle - but have always recognised that Caballe, and Leyla Gencer were only a hairs breadth behind. I have seen both dvd's of Sutherlan'ds Norma, butthis recording of Caballe hands the role squarely to her. This is HER role, and this performance is just wonderful.

Filmed in the midst of a mistral, which actually only adds atmosphere -I had thought that it would really interfere with both sound and vision, but it didn't. Any lack of quality is only in the vision, and is only because of the age of the recording, and the less adequate technology of the 70's.

The whole cast is outstanding - except Jon Vickers, a singer that, like Marmite you either love or hate! I actually think he was probably a nice bloke, but I just don't like his voice or the way he sings. But that's just a personal view - others may really like him. But the evening belongs to Caballe - her singing is almost flawless, and her acting incredible - this despite the fact that, like Sutherland, she was not big on acting other than to flounce a bit, and swish her skirts, and assume a regal attitude!

But honestly - who cares? Those who carp about Sutherland's poor diction, or acting, have, in my opinion totally missed the point> yes opera IS theatre, but the MOST important element is the voice, and the music. I am at a loss to understand who go on about diction - even if the diction were crystal clear, how many would be able to understand the Italian French or German language anyway - without a written translation? And do you really want hear every word clearly annunciated, at the expense of a genius voice like Sutherland - or Caballe, or Gencer - or even Callas? If so, go and bore yourself at a mediocre performance.

Anyone wondering which dvd to go for, choose this one - it is definitive - we are party to two women breaking their hearts over the same rather worthless man, and the extreme pain that cause. Only someone who has known such a situation would understand that. Above all it is so human - and a real experience.
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on 27 November 2011
Very impressive outdoor production in the Roman theatre at Orange some 35 years ago. Caballe is terriffic even though the sound was recorded live in, apparently, a near gale. Worth seeing.
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on 27 June 2009
A truly magnificent performance of surely one of the greatest operas. On this night, in the storm battered roman arena of Orange, the opera perhaps founds its natural home. A strong cast are headed by Caballe and Vickers in their prime - and what a combination this is, especially with Veasey's glorious Adalgisa.

The production is, inevitably in such a setting, straightforward - but with moments of true spectacle.

A must have recording for the legions of fans of Caballe, Vickers, Veasey, great singing - and if this glorious opera.
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on 15 October 2008
I think this is the best Norma you can buy!
Caballe is outstandig, voice, interpretation, all! like Vickers is! thank God no Horne as Adalgisa, but Veasey a realy beautiful mezzo with the same colour everywhere in her voice! Also the bass is great! the sounds maybe not the best but the overall performance is not likely to be bettered!
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on 31 December 2011
I can't believe that I actually paid good money for this recording. Admittedly it has a glittering cast of stars, but it was recorded outside in the middle of a howling gale which at times threatened to drown out the singers who are to be congratulated for completing the performance in such adverse conditions. The camera work was poor and the film was out of focus more often than not.
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