Fabio Biondi’s Most Un-Usual Norma

SpainSpain Vincenzo Bellini, Norma: Europa Galante, Valencia’s Coral Catedralicia, Fabio Biondi (conductor), Auditorio El Baluarte, Pamplona, 19.2.2012 (JMI)

Concert version


Norma: Katia Pellegrino
Adalgisa: Lucia Cirillo
Pollione: Ferdinand Von Bothmer
Oroveso: Nikolai Didenko
Clotilde:Gemma Bertagnolli
Flavio: Gian Luca Zoccatelli

I engaged in some expectation-management before this concert: Fabio Biondi and his orchestra are superb interpreters of Baroque music, especially with Vivaldi. But would their approach work in Bellini’s Norma? Incidentally, yes. Yes!

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A.Vivaldi, Ercole sul Termodonte,
Fabio Biondi / Europa Gallante / R.Villazon, P.Ciofi, D.Damrau, J.DiDonato, V.Genaux, P.Jaroussky et al.
Virgin Classics

It was a different Norma to the one we are used to, that Fabio Biondi offered. Apparently Biondi’s first Norma took place in Parma some ten years back, and now he has repeated the experience in Valencia and Pamplona. Mr. Biondi is not only a great musician but also an outstanding musical investigator, and if his Norma had little to do in musical terms with what we have come used to (thanks to the various divas who have played the role), it was all for the better. Biondi was truly—in the best sense ‘shockingly’—faithful to Bellini’s score and the sound was  perhaps the closest possible to what could be was heard at Norma’s premiere at La Scala in December 1831.

The pitch came back down, the tempi were much faster than what great divas prefer, and cabalettas are always repeated, including variations and ornamentation the second time around. Highs notes are kept only if written in the score. In sum: a historicist Norma where the protagonists were Fabio Biondi and his magnificent Europa Galante. A truly different, very original, and most interesting feast for the ears: Cheers to Maestro Biondi.

But Italian soprano Katia Pellegrino’s Norma deserves high praise, too. She was always at the service of maestro Biondi, and to excellent results. Her soprano has enough power, great agility, and she is very expressive in her singing. She deserves to be better known in the opera world—and perhaps this is the vehicle to do it.

Italian mezzo-soprano Lucia Cirillo is a well-known interpreter of baroque and some Mozart operas. Her Adalgisa was a very pleasant surprise. She has a beautiful voice, well suited to the character, she sings with taste, and imbues her text and notes with meaning.

Ferdinand von Bothmer, a lighter tenor than what we are used to in the role, was an elegant Pollione, if rather tight in his first scene. Russian bass Nikolai Didenko was a sonorous Oroveso. Gemma Bertagnolli was luxury casting as Clotilde.

José Mª Irurzun