Sondra Radvanovsky: The Norma by Which Others will be Judged

SpainSpain Bellini, Norma: Soloists, Orchestra Principado de Asturias, Coro Ópera de Oviedo, Robert Tolomelli (conductor). Teatro Campoamor de Oviedo, 14,12.2011. (JMI)

Direction: Susana Gómez.
Stage: Antonio López
Costumes: Gabriela Salaverri
Lighting: Alfonso Malanda

Norma: Sondra Radvanovsky
Adalgisa: Dolora Zajick
Pollione: Aquiles Machado
Oroveso: Carlo Colombara
Clotilde: Maribel Ortega
Flavio: Jon Plazaola

Planned originally as a concert version, the Teatro Campoamor de Oviedo happily opted for a semi-staged performance of Norma, and one so elaborate, it came close to being a fully staged one. Susana Gomez did the directing there was to do, and thanks to her imagination coupled with an acute sense of economy, that switch meant a for the better.

The stage used some elements from old productions in the opera’s warehouse. A few curtains at the back of the stage, stair-elements for some scenes, a moon, and a big gong meant that there wasn’t much less on stage than with many a modern minimalist production. Costumes were also partially recycled. The protagonist, granted, looked more like Tosca than a Druid priestess, but the final result was good. Kudos to Oviedo and the stage team for this initiative, de-facto treating its audience to a staged performance for the price of a concert version.

If the stage has been an unexpected surprise, the musical aspect was as weak as it could be expected. Roberto Tolomelli’s reading was been bland and routine, every slowing down the tempi to support the two ladies on stage. The Orchestra did not seem to be at their best either and left much to be desired.

The main appeal of this Norma was Sondra Radvanovsky’s debut in the title rôle. For once we had a singer who fully met the requirements of this character in purely vocal terms: A dramatic soprano of great agility which is just what Sondra Radvanovsky is. It becomes ever more rare that the rôle is done justice too as it is assumed by rather light sopranos, who can be excellent singers but they cannot express the true dramatic character of Norma.

Mme. Radvanovsky is an excellent Norma, able of dealing with all the high notes of the score. Her soprano is rather peculiar, a dark, very strong voice with a surprising vibrato in the middle range, and a rare mastery over her instrument which allows her to offer beautiful a beautiful piano in her singing. Her “Casta Diva” was one of many highlights in her very successful debut, and in the final scenes she was just  great (“In mia man al fin tu sei”!). The least convincing parts were the two duets with Adalgisa (Dolora Zajick), but I think that was rather a problem of too little contrast between two big voices. With a lighter Adalgisa things could have worked much better. I should hope that this was the first of many Normas for Mme. Radvanovsky

Dolora Zajick is, at 59, a most reliable singer, even if Adalgisa is probably not her best role. She has been one of the most important Verdi mezzos of the last  20 years and she still can stand comparison with any other colleague in characters such as Azucena or Amneris. Adalgisa is something different. Dolora Zajick is not credible for the character of a young girl who wakes up to her first love, especially not when she is almost two decades older than her Norma—further audible by a lack of freshness in her timbre. It should be mentioned that the duets were sung in the original key, which is an added merit for Mrs. Zajick.

Aquiles Machado’s Pollione was a happy surprise. He has shed so many pounds, that at first I nearly didn’t recognize him on stage, with his much leaner body. He is now much better suited to the modern stage requirements and in a better voice than some 3-4 years ago, to boot. Signs of vocal fatigue were only present in the top notes, when sang at forte, but the center has improved much. In all, he was a better Pollione than most singers who take on that rôle these days.

Carlo Colombara was a very reliable Oroveso with a good bottom range and whitish top. His voice is not very big, but enough to reach any point in the theatre. Among the secondary characters, both Maribel Ortega (Clotilde) and Jon Plazaola (Flavio) were excellent.

Jose Mª Irurzun