Three Norma Performances in Madrid Featuring Three Impressive Casts

SpainSpain Bellini, Norma: Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Real/Roberto Abbado (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 26, 30 and 31.10.2016. (JMI)

A scene from Teatro Real’s Norma © Javier del Real

Norma – Maria Agresta/Angela Meade/ Mariella Devia
Pollione – Gregory Kunde/Roberto Aronica/Stefan Pop
Adalgisa – Karine Desahayes/Veronica Simeoni/Ketevan Kemoklidze
Oroveso – Michele Pertusi/Simón Orfila/Fernando Radó
Flavio – Antonio Lozano
Clotilde – María Miró

Director – Davide Livermore
Sets – Giò Forma
Costumes – Marianna Fracasso
Lighting – Antonio Castro
Video – D-Wok

This is the first time that Norma has been performed at Teatro Real since it reopened in 1997. On this occasion, there were two main casts, and one extra performance on 30 October with a third cast headed by Mariella Devia. The stage production, a collaboration of Teatro Real with Valencia Palau de Les Arts and Bilbao’s ABAO, premiered in Valencia in March last year. It’s by Davide Livermore, the current general manager of the Palau de Les Arts, and what I wrote about it at the premiere still holds (review).

The musical direction was entrusted to Roberto Abbado, the current music director of Valencia’s Palau de Les Arts, and his conducting was not particularly impressive. There are two characteristics common to his performances. One is his tendency to abuse orchestral sound: this was incontestable during the first act and especially in the noisy overture. The other is his tendency to accommodate tempos to the wishes of the singers: the differences between the fastest and the slowest here were six minutes or more. To his credit, he maintained excellent control of both stage and pit. The Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Real gave fine performances, although both have shone more on occasions in the past.

Norma has always been a difficult role to fill, and casting three different Normas is almost impossible. Nevertheless, Teatro Real presented three excellent sopranos, although not all of them were suited to the part.

In the first cast we had Maria Agresta, whose voice is really not appropriate for Norma. She is a remarkable soprano but was disappointing here. I was surprised by her coldness in the interpretation of ‘Casta diva’. She improved in both duets with Adalgisa, where she showed quality and musicality, but came up short in the last part of the opera where the character becomes more dramatic. I prefer her in other roles that are more appropriate for her voice.

There’s no doubt that Mariella Devia is a miracle of nature: it’s highly unusual for a singer at 68 to offer a vocal freshness like hers, together with an excellent technique. She is an important Norma within an eminently lyrical conception. Her outstanding bel canto was fully established, especially in the first act of the opera, where she was excellent at ‘Casta diva’, and especially at the cabaletta ‘Ah! Bello a me ritorna’, where she offered variations of great difficulty. But in the more dramatic moments Mariella Devia falls short. It is not possible with a lyrical voice like hers to brilliantly face the last scene with Pollione. In my opinion she is an excellent Norma, one of the best today, but she is not a Norma for history.

The third Norma was American Angela Meade, and vocally she was the most suited to the role. Her voice is not particularly beautiful, with a wide middle range, no problems at the low notes, and quite easy at the top; she was able to insert a non-written top note at the end of the duet with Pollione, ‘In mia man alfin  tu sei’. And she was the only one able to offer outstanding and perfect pianissimos at the top of the range, as if she were Montserrat Caballé. To be an exceptional Norma, she would have to work very hard in her interpretation which is too placid and even somewhat expressionless.

Gregory Kunde was again a very convincing Pollione. He was excellent, particularly at the cabaletta of Act I (‘mi protege mi defendi’), where he included some difficult and brilliant variations on the second verse.

Stefan Pop had a positive debut at Teatro Real. His voice is beautiful and has enough amplitude. He was not too convincing is Act I, but from the duet with Adalgisa things improved significantly, and he made a strong impression.

Roberto Aronica was rather irregular as Pollione. I found him monotonous during the first act, both in his big scene and in the duet with Adalgisa. However, things went much better in the final scene, where he was more impressive than earlier.

Karine Deshayes was a satisfying Adalgisa though not exceptional. Ketevan Kemoklidze was remarkable, both singing and acting. Veronica Simeoni was also superb, singing with good taste and great intention. The truth is that all three were excellent Adalgisas.

As Oroveso, Michele Pertusi once again showed his elegant singing, but this character requires more vocal authority. Fernando Radó was rather light for Oroveso, more a baritone than a real bass. Simon Orfila was sonorous, but his voice was coarser than on other occasions.

In the secondary characters, Maria Miró did really well as Clotilde, as did Antonio Lozano as Flavio.

José M. Irurzun

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