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on 19 June 2016
Possibly because I made my first career as a singer of Baroque Music, I find this a thrilling and fascinating listen. I don't despute the claims of Callas (I have heard both EMI recordings as well as the 1955 La Scala and the very sad last Paris extracts: my preference is the RAI with Stignani and del Monaco conducted by Serafin).

From the first sonorities of the overture, there is a vividness and passion to this recording that is hugely involving, How often does one refer to the orchestra in Bellini? The extended version of the introduction to Act 2 with its stabbing sdorzandos and poignant horns is riveting. GIuseppe Antonini has been criticised for tempi too brisk but to some extent these are dictated by the bows of the period band and the energy and colour of the sonorities bring their own felicitation.

Cecilia Bartoli attracts a lot of criticism, but I have loved seeing her in the theatre both on stage and in concert, her enjoyment of taking in breath and emitting it as sound to share with the audience is entirely infectious. I've not seen her sing Norma live, but she has taken the role into the theatre and her achievement seems astonishing to me here. Her command of text, that ineffable ability to make the music hang in the air, the compassion of "Teneri figli" and an almost chiaroscuro control of dynamic, no doubt necessitated by the limits of her instrument, are hugely compelling. She sings Casta Diva in F (as did Pasta) but tackles Mira O Norma in the original key (unlike Callas who transposed it down), albeit at 430 not 440. She has been criticised for not hanging on to the scenario turning "Son io" but the sense of rushed confession followed by stunned silence is mesmerising and her pained singing of "Qual cor traditisti" haunts the memory. Sure, her voice is less even and beautiful than in earlier days, but there is no ugliness to match that of Callas or the wear on Scotto or Sutherland in her second recording.

I thought Sumi Jo absolutely ravishing as Adalgisa, the purity and youthfulness of her sound ideally suited, the soft Ab on "Ah, l'amai" exactly as requested in the score. She also responds positively in the duets with Norma and creates a wonderful sense of stunned timelssness in the extended version of the Act 1 Trio.

John Osborn sings with elegance and lyricism as Pollione: he actually sounds like both a lover and a man to inspire devotion. His response at "Stupenda Donna" is absolutely beautiful: a man shocked at a humanity behind what he had ever considered.

Nobody will buy a Norma recording for Oroveso but Michele Petrusi is entirely adequate to the task and the chorus is wonderfully hushed before his Act 2 aria, although they can sound a little small scale in some places such as the 'Guerra' chorus. The quiet ending of this with Norma singing against the chorus and floating an arpeggio at the end is magical though.

It's been quite a while since last I sat down and listened to a new opera recording from start to finish. This revelatory recording encouraged me to do that as it works so well as both music and drama and although you'll need to set aside pre conceptions (which is not to discredit the achievements of Caballé, Callas, Scotto and Sutherland in this opera). If you can listen with fresh ears you may find it revelatory. The CD packaging is exemplary and the booklet notes informative about the decisions taken in reaching the edition recorded.
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on 22 March 2017
Having only heard this role sung by Soprano, listening to parts before purchase had Goose Flesh running up my spine.
Being a Fan of Bartoli I just had to have it.
The difference in the vocalizations is truly amazing. If you have never heard this opera before, then you won't be aware of the difference.
Bartoli's voice is clear and concise in the role.
The orchestration is far more lively than some recordings I've heard. In fact with the fast pace of the orchestra, I was put in mind of Richard Bonyge's adaptions for orchestra.
Over all this is a wonderful recording. I' wondering what Cecilia will grace us with next.
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on 10 July 2013
There's a lot going for this recording. A Rossini tenor for Pollione and a soprano for Adalgisa make perfect sense and both are very well sung. The period instruments and sprightly tempi give the whole opera a real freshness and momentum. Which leaves only one problem. Bartoli is good in her own distinctive way but for me she's just too mannered and internalised to totally convince. But still, if you're in any doubts (as I was), this recording is well worth investigating, particularly at £14 (see offers under new).
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on 16 September 2015
This is rather different to many Norma's produced over the years, ie Callas, Sutherland, Deutekom and Sills come to mind. This is a Mezzo singing the main role with a lirico-spinto soprano singing Adalgisa whose music was confined to the Mezzo library for years. Bartoli's singing was lovely with a super musical line. A very interesting production and definitely worth holding in your music library - this is my fifth Norma recording, three on vinyl and two on CD.
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on 5 February 2016
Having read some of the reviews online I was not sure what to expect, however I now find myself at odds with some of the reviewers. The performance has a clarity and directness that is very refreshing. I have listened to the Callas version and find it much to c20 - too big - too inflated. The voices are well balanced and whilst I understand that we all have our preferences to say that Bartolli does not suit the role lacks understanding and perspective. She strives for and achieves the essence of character and her clarity of diction and beautiful phrasing is a joy to hear. I would recommend this CD to anyone who wants to extend their awareness of opera. The CD package is excellent (whilst the CDs are a little difficult to get out!) and the accompanying booklet is worth the price in its own right.
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on 5 December 2015
Although it seemed a long time arriving... I have already listened to this recording, It is a very distinctive recording, as always the incredible voice range of Cecila Bartoli is outstanding, she `feels` every note dramatically. A treasure.
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on 7 January 2014
I love Bartoli and I love Bellini's "Norma" but the two do not go together for me. This is not a recording that I would recommend. No doubt I have been influenced by the great sopranos of the past who have excelled in this role such as Callas, Cabille and Ponselle. I feel it really does need a very special voice and a commanding one. Perhaps some will find this interpretation to be a revelation. I'm afraid it did nothing for me.
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on 30 December 2015
Superb new recording with original score and instruments. Everything works very well, especially having a mezzo in the lead role.
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on 26 August 2016
The music is exquisite and the addition in the package of the libretto and details of the history of this production very interesting and helpful.
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on 23 May 2013
This is a controversial recording and will not suit everyone's tastes. But then, as Bartoli in the accompanying essay explains, our modern tastes are based on inauthentic practise. This recording tries to strip away the inconsistancies, the bad habits, the preconceptions, and present the opera as it may have been heard in Bellini's day.

We will never prove how authentic this really is, but it makes very interesting listening, and is an commendable effort to step out of the shadow cast by Callas and Sutherland.

The recording uses a new edition of the score, with expanded duets and trios and new variations here and there. It's not as ground-breaking as suggested by the booklet: much of these discoveries were performed by Holland Park opera some years ago (with Nelly Miricioiu), and nor is this the first ever performance with period instruments. But in terms of restoring, reviving and research, Decca and Bartoli are here following in the footsteps of pioneers like Opera Rara. Integrity and history can sometimes lead to a dull outcome, but here, whatever one makes of the casting or the edition, it is certainly alive with personality.

I've often felt, in the past, that Bartoli's coloratura can sound too aggressive and staccato for my taste. Here, the explosive nature of her dazzling technique, works very well; Norma is a wronged woman, and Bartoli, despite a smaller-than-usual voice for the part, is dramatically alert to the possibilities. Singing at the original pitch, the more prayerful introspective parts are beautifully sung and overall I was much taken with her interpretation - more so than I expected. It's on a more human scale than Callas, but infinitely more in focus than Sutherland or Caballe.

Sumi Jo is the soprano Adalgisa, and certainly she sounds a lot more youthful than mezzos Ebe Stignani (with Callas) or Horne (with Sutherland). It's a more delicate approach, but she's an intelligent singer and her voice is lovely. Osborn's Pollione - a thankless role - is cleanly sung, lacking Corelli's heroics but bringing much bel canto detail. It's a sweet toned voice in quieter passeges (The Qual cor tradisti scene is exquisite), and under pressure it's still flexible and secure, if a less lovely sound. Pertusi is the sombre father figure.

All the principles decorate the music. In Bartoli's case, I disliked her additions to the line in Casta Diva, and thought Osborn over-decorated Pollione's cabaletta too. He also adds interpolated high notes (but Norma has none of her climactic notes added). So some inconsistancy there perhaps.

Antonini conducts a sprightly account, allowing this full edition to fit 2 CDs. In that respect he is similar to Levine's account with Scotto (often over-looked but full of memorable moments). Sometimes it seemed to me that the determination to be different resulted in contrary effects-for-the-sake-of-it. Even the overture is hurried along sometimes, and certain crucial passeges - presumably following the score to the letter - are prosaic; the famous "son io" at the climax of the opera is usually held and given great significance. Not here. Despite that, the opera obstinitely refuses to look back to the Baroque, and remains, even here, a throughly forward looking Romantic masterpiece.

The recording is clear and well balanced if a little too reverberent or echoey for my ideal.

Put alongside other recordings (I won't be parting with Callas OR Scotto), this is a fascinating exploration. And whichever version you listen to, one thing is for sure: Bellini's genius shines through every bar.
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