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October 2, 2013 5:03 pm
Sopranos who can sing Bellini’s Norma – really sing the monstrous role – are nearly as scarce as icebergs in the desert. Sondra Radvanovsky, who undertook the challenge for the first time at the Met on Monday, comes astonishingly close.
Her voice is big and lustrous, exceptionally bright at the top, darker at deeper depths. She commands a vast range of notes and a broad range of dynamics. She rides the grand climaxes with a keen cutting edge, with smashing power and apparent ease. When needed, she executes ravishing pianissimo phrases and, even more striking, exquisite diminuendos. She conveys both passion and dignity with focused economy. As circumstances permit, she adjusts her generous output to match that of lesser colleagues. She assumes conventional operatic poses with compelling conviction, reinforced by an attractive stage presence. She may occasionally attack ascending lines a bit from below, and she may occasionally smudge fioritura flights. In context, however, such quibbles border on irrelevance.
She was partnered inequitably here by Aleksandrs Antonenko as Norma’s lover, Pollione, and Kate Aldrich as her rival, Adalgisa. The tenor, celebrated as Riccardo Muti’s Otello, rings musical rafters with rare aplomb though he tends to slight introspective contrasts. The mezzo-soprano projects a pretty voice and a pretty persona but resembles a lightweight drafted for heavyweight work. James Morris, portraying Oroveso, Norma’s priestly-basso father, looks bored and sounds creaky.
Riccardo Frizza, the energetic conductor on duty, keeps matters moving without sustaining much rhythmic impetus or creating much dramatic thrust. Efficiency seems his goal.
The performance is crippled in any case by the grim and gloomy bargain-basement production introduced here in 2001. John Copley, who was capable of greatness in other situations, originally reduced the narrative to a lazy pageant. Stephen Pickover, who has inherited Copley’s mess, directs the listless traffic faithfully. John Conklin’s décors remain bleak, barren and ugly, depressing exercises in half-hearted expressionism.
In all, a rather bad Norma salvaged, to a degree, by a very good Norma.
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