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Norma at the Met


raulgmanzo
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Friday night in New York I had the good fortune of seeing Bellini's Norma at the Metropolitan Opera. Hasmik Papian who was Norma received a bad review in the NY times earlier in the week. But either the critics where overly critical, she got it together or perhaps I'm just not very sophisticated when it comes to Bel Canto singing. Because I thoroughly enjoyed her performance.

Her duets with Adalgisa (Dolora Zajick) were amazing and when Pollione (Franco Farina) and Orovese (Vitali Kowaljov) joined in I cried.

 

So if the Broadway strike has you down why not head up to the Lincoln Center?

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Raul Thanks for the “review” of Bellini’s [i}Norma[/i]. You are one of several persons who have not agreed with the New York Times assessment of the initial performance. Papian probably did improve since opening night and Zajick was probably her old reliable self. Farina always gets bad press so it is encouraging to hear that he made an emotional impact with his singing.

 

Norma is one of my favorite operas… it is Bel Canto at it’s finest… especially the duets and the finale of the piece… not to mention the aria “Casta diva” which is Bel Canto in excelsis! I will be seeing it next week with Maria Guleghina as Norma… a singer who has a large dramatic voice and is not considered to be a Bel Canto specialist… So the results should be interesting.

 

Still, there is a certain mystique concerning the role of Norma as it will always be associated with the likes of Sutherland, Caballé, and especially Callas. So the bar is always raised when the piece is given. Consequently, one needs to pity the soprano who dares attempt the title role… as she usually steps on stage with two strikes against her…

 

Still, if hearing the piece made you cry Bellini’s music worked is special magic… and that is what Bel Canto is ultimately all about… the singing should be beautiful, but there also needs to be a certain expressive quality and an emotional impact associated with the singing… Hopefully, that is what I will experience next week. No, I don’t expect to relive Callas at La Scala in 1955, but hopefully there will be enough Bel Canto sparks to ignite some of the magic in Bellini’s extraordinary score.

 

Perhaps I should change my screen name to “Bel Canto Opera Guy”…

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I heard the performance on the radio last night and I thought that Papian sounded much better than has been described. She may not be ideal but I did think she had the "vocal goods" as they say. Zajick is always "on" and Farina was better than usual. I don't see this -- in person -- until later in the run when Maria Guleghina takes over.

 

For a real treat, to to youtube and do a search on tenor Zachary Stains. There is a clip there of his appearance in an obscure Vivaldi opera about Hercules done in Spoleta in the summer of 2006. The rub is that Mr. Stains -- who played Hercules -- performed the role wearing only a lion skin and is full, frontally naked. He has a beautiful voice and physique.

 

It's one of the most amazing things I've seen. The days of the short, fat tenor appear to be over!

 

Mark

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As much as I like the NY Times, I notice that when I like something new at the ABT, they don't. Their culture critics tend to be pretty hard to please.

 

But thanks for posting this info, Raul. Isn't it nice to walk out of a theater with the thrill of having seen something special?

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Norma has to be one of the most difficult roles for any soprano, starting cold with "Casta diva." Most Normas seem to get better as the opera goes on, especially if they get engaged in exchanges with good Adalgisas and Polliones, because it's the duets that have the most beautiful and satisfying music in that opera. I once saw Renata Scotto sing it in Philadelphia, and she was excruciating to listen to at first, but by the second act I had forgot that and was carried away by the total performance. I think critics often make a judgment right at the beginning of a performance, and then have difficulty adjusting it. I knew one critic who left after the first act of a mediocre debut at the Met, but asked me to call him later if it got any better. It did, so I called and told him so, but that didn't change his review in the papers the next morning.

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Guest zipperzone

he rub is that Mr. Stains -- who played

>Hercules -- performed the role wearing only a lion skin and is

>full, frontally naked.

 

That's a rub?

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Re: Norma has to be one of the most difficult roles for any soprano, starting cold with "Casta diva."

 

Actually the opening recitative prior to "Casta diva" must be sung with great authority and dramatic flair to be effective... Then the aria that follows must be a hushed prayer for peace to the goddess of the moon... The transition is certainly difficult to pull off. Callas always made a magical transition at the words "Pace v'intimo - e il sacro vischio io mieto"... but even she at times could not muster enough "moonlight" into her voice to sing the perfect "Casta diva". However, even when she could not pull things off perfectly, she usually came close... and damn close at that!

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Anne Midgette, who wrote that review, is a mean-spirited, bilious, bitter, well, it rhymes with sunt. I don't trust anything she writes, and she has little credibility these days. Why the Times keeps her defies belief.

 

From the Time Out New York issue where people involved in the arts critique the critics in NY, they said about her, "Her tone is condescending and patronizing. Why such an attitude? A mean-spirited, deeply biased menace." So true!

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Sorry guys, I think the Times review was accurate. If you love this opera, you should hear someone who can really sing it. Hasmik Papian was barely adequate, with a voice of no particular distinction, a weak lower register, no ability to shape the phrases, and poor coloratura. This is Bel Canto opera -- composed for the greatest singers of the day -- and should be entrusted to singers who can really bring something special to the role. The great Normas of recent years were Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, and Montserrat Caballe -- each of whom either had a stunningly beautiful voice with amazing technique and/or extraordinary artistic qualities. Hasmik Papian is mediocre on all fronts. Listen to a recording of one of these other ladies and you'll see why many of us were so critical. Dolora Zajick, on the other hand, had exactly the kind of vocal command and artistry that this kind of opera needs.

That said, I'm glad you enjoyed it. If you don't understand the criticism though, it does have a good basis.

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Pierrot... Something tells me that you are correct about this… even though the New York Times tends to have a condescending viewpoint concerning the arts. I have only heard a snippet of Papian as Norma from a DVD of a live performance. It was of the opening scene which included "Casta diva" and its cabaletta. I must say I was not overly impressed and the coloratura was a bit sketchy at times. Still, I am somewhat biased as I was brought up on the “big three” Norma's of recent times... Nonetheless, I was not at the MET performance under discussion and others who saw the same performance as Raul seem to think it was not as bad as the Times review would make one believe. However, as I noted above… and as Pierrot rightfully mentions... when performing Norma the bar is indeed raised and it really should be entrusted to only the greatest singers of the day. The problem is that there are probably no singers today who can do justice to the part and that includes Renee Fleming who will tackle the role at the MET in several years. She floundered in Bellini's Il Pirata several seasons ago and the role of Imogene in that opera is a cakewalk compared to that of Norma.

 

Consequently, it's either hearing the piece with lesser singers or not being able to experience it at all. Some would say that the latter is the better option... I'm not so sure. At least we will be able to experience others in the opera, such the more than competent Zajick... and yes Charlie... she is taken for granted these days! Additionally, hearing the beauties of the score might encourage others to seek out the heights that Sutherland, Caballé, and above all the divine Callas were able to attain.

 

As for the performance I am scheduled to see with Guleghina as Norma… I am expecting very little… I am hoping that at the very least the result will be somewhat interesting… perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised…. But somehow I think not… I have heard selections of Guleghina in the part and she did not really make a positive impression. Still, I will try to keep an open mind. At the very least I will be experiencing some of the most beautiful Bel Canto melodies ever conceived… so in the end the genius of Bellini will certainly save the evening from being a total loss.

 

Incidentally, from what I have heard Raul was not the only one who shed a tear or two at that performance… so indeed something at least somewhat positive transpired that evening… after all that is what opera and especially Bel Canto opera are all about.

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If you want to hear a REALLY great performance, try to get to the Met on Saturday for Diana Damrau's final Queen of the Night. She is sensational in this part (as in everything else she's done at the Met so far). She's an actress, musician, and vocal technician all rolled into one. Maybe it's on Sirius too, if you're not in NY, but without seeing her it may not have the same impact.

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Meanwhile, enjoy the REAL Normas (each one according to personal taste):

 

Maria Callas: (MY personal REAL deal...)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr-RtMOKcJo&feature=related

 

Joan Sutherland: (technical perfection)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_dABhOuY84

 

Montserrat Caballe: (what a GORGEOUS voice!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIQQv39dcNE&feature=related

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>If you want to hear a REALLY great performance, try to get to

>the Met on Saturday for Diana Damrau's final Queen of the

>Night. She is sensational in this part (as in everything else

>she's done at the Met so far). She's an actress, musician, and

>vocal technician all rolled into one. Maybe it's on Sirius

>too, if you're not in NY, but without seeing her it may not

>have the same impact.

 

And the production is by Julie Taymor (Lion King, etc.). It's a wonderful staging.

 

Kevin Slater

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Thanks for the links! And yes! Each one is the real deal! For the entire role I generally prefer Callas. Caballé usually gets my vote for the best "Casta diva", with Sutherland by and large coming in third… (Shoot!! Such glorious singing and only third?!)

 

Still, as you say “each one according to personal taste” and depending on one’s mood… either way it is a close call.

 

Would that we had such a glut of exceptional options among today’s interpreters!

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