Norma at opening night of the San Francisco Opera. Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky was a powerhouse in the title role. She has a big voice & sang with athletic stamina & focus the entire evening. Her low notes were sturdy & strong, & her voice was penetrating high up. She created a feeling of suspense when she sang quiet, hovering high notes with incredible control. It was a consistently potent performance. Mezzo Jamie Barton was terrific as Adalgisa. She sang her first phrases with such softness & security that I immediately felt confident about the rest of her performance. Her voice was lovely, smooth & floating throughout its range, which was often high this evening.
Tenor Marco Berti as Pollione was a forceful singer & seemed to be using a lot of muscle to get through the show. Tenor A.J. Glueckert's voice is distinctively clear & flowing. He was a reproving Flavio & communicated urgency. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn sounded suitably sober & stern as Oroveso. The male chorus was great, sounding unified & unhesitant. Two very small boys portrayed Norma's children. They were cute & well-behaved & even briefly got the whole stage to themselves at the beginning of act 2.
The production's single set is a huge decorated wall that is the entire height of the stage. We get occasional glimpses of a winter landscape on the other side. The staging is static & did not help to involve me in the story. There is real fire onstage in the final scene, but the flames last only a few seconds. The costumes did not make me think of druids or Roman soldiers. I heard someone comment later that the shimmery dress worn by Norma in the 1st act seemed more Las Vegas than pagan Gaul. Apparently Norma wore facial tattoos during the dress rehearsal, but these were evidently removed by opening night.
I liked Maestro Nicola Luisotti's vigorous conducting. The orchestra's playing was vivid, & the woodwinds sounded sheen. The reaction of the opening night audience was surprisingly tame, despite great singing by the leading ladies. Perhaps there was too much competition from the many glamorous women of all ages in the audience. Tenor Russell Thomas will sing Pollione in the remaining performances.
Vincenzo Bellini / Felice Romani
San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Director: Kevin Newbury
Norma: Sondra Radvanovsky
Adalgisa: Jamie Barton
Pollione: Marco Berti
Oroveso: Christian Van Horn
Clotilda: Jacqueline Piccolino
Flavio: A.J. Glueckert
Norma's Children: Oliver Kuntz & Miles Sperske
Fri 09/5/14 8:00pm
War Memorial Opera House