Sweden Bellini Norma. Soloists, Chorus, Anders-Per Jonsson (chorus master), Jacob Piamorex Moscovicz (piano). Dala-FlodaChurch, Dalecarlia. 10.8.2014 (GF)
Norma, Anna Eklund Tarantino
Direction and costume design: Mathias Clason
Narrator: Birgit Carlstén
In Dala-Floda, an area made up of several small villages some forty kilometres south of Lake Siljan, soprano Anna Eklund Tarantino runs her own opera festival in early August in close cooperation with a lot of local enthusiasts and voluntaries. This year it was the fourth time and, having grown rapidly within this short time-span, the festival could offer no less than four different operas, plus workshops, concerts and other events. Du to other assignments I was only able to attend the final day of the festival with the performance of Bellini’s Norma in the beautiful church, situated just a stone’s throw from the majestic river Dalälven. There is neither room nor economy for an orchestra but the piano wizard Jacob Moscowicz was a worthy substitute and impressed greatly – not least through his enviable stamina and ability to vary dynamics. Opera with piano accompaniment can often feel like a half measure but Bellini’s rather plain orchestral writing works better than most other composers’ music in this shape. The work was slightly abridged but the linking narrative tied everything together and also gave the listeners a clue to the text, since the opera was performed in the original Italian. Birgit Carlstén was a superb narrator, finding an ideal attitude to the work and its tragic complications. I was also greatly impressed by the singing of the pick-up chorus, which unfortunately could only be seen by the listeners in the first few rows. Space is, as I have already intimated, rather limited in the church and there is no room for sets but Mathias Clason cleverly made use of the room that was available and located quite a lot of the action to the aisle and Norma herself even ascended the pulpit several times and delivered her solos from there. Clason admitted after the performance that this might be controversial but I heard no one complaining. One oddity is that Norma isn’t burned at the stake – there wasn’t room for a pyre, I suppose – bud stabs herself before the altar.
Rehearsal time had been utterly limited: three days, and some of the singers needed a glance in the score once in a while, there were some misses but all in all this was a coherent and engaging performance that I would like to see again – why not a reprise next summer and preferably with the same cast, which was uniformly superb.
The title role is certainly a challenge for any soprano. The legendary Lilli Lehmann once said that singing all three Brünnhildes in Wagner’s Ring cycle in one evening would be less stressful than singing one Norma. The range, the technical demands, the many different emotions she has to express require superhuman stamina, flexibility and mental control and Anna Eklund Tarantino summoned all her energy and power in a magnificent reading of the role. It’s a hackneyed phrase but very true in this case that “she was Norma”. Just as impressive was Paulina Pfeiffer, who has already been Adalgisa both in Paris and Stockholm. She told me afterwards that this is one of her favourite roles and every little gesture, every facial expression revealed that she was deeply inside the character. “She was Adalgisa”! I wrote earlier this year about her Sifare in Mozart’s Mitridate that everything about her singing pointed forward to spinto roles. After this Adalgisa, so grandiosely sung I would say that she is already there. The beauty of the voice is riveting, she can modulate it at will to express any nuances and she has the volume, the power in the attack and the steadiness that makes me long to hear her as, say, Tosca. The big scenes where Norma and Adalgisa meet were true highlights, crowned by a magical Mira, o Norma.
But the male singers were in the same division. Mathias Zachariassen may not have a gigantic Franco Corelli voice but it is well focussed and has built in intensity. What impressed most in his reading was however how he often scaled down and sang softly, making this warrior a weaker, more human person than one is used to hearing. He is also a brilliant actor. Oroveso is a dream role for a black bass and Johan Schinkler, whom I have praised on several occasions before, is the possessor of one of the blackest and most voluminous voices in this country. He filled every nook and cranny of the church with the most glorious sounds and I was a bit worried that the church windows would break – but they didn’t. As Flavio John Haque had regained his steadiness after some days’ throat trouble he complained about when we met earlier.
Mathias Clason’s costumes – he even took part in the manufacturing of them – are beautiful and contribute considerably to the overall impression. Hopefully Anna Eklund has some space in a closet somewhere to keep them for a revival of this Norma production next summer. Go and see it then!