Sunday, September 14, 2014

SF Opera: Norma

Last weekend I heard 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.

§ Norma
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


Civic Center said...

Opening Night of the Season audiences are always awful and give no energy back to the stage, since their interests usually lie elsewhere than the music. I went standing room on Wednesday evening, the 2nd performance, and was blown away by the beauty of Jamie Barton's voice, impressed by Ms. Sondra as Norma, and sort of horrified by Marco Berti as Pollione. I didn't stay for the finale because he was too off-pitch.

Evidently, Gockley is psychic because there was a new tenor, Russell Thomas, at the Sunday afternoon performance and for the remainder of the run after Berti left for "personal reasons." Thomas was fantastic, and since most of his music is duets and that fab trio with the ladies, it was a huge improvement in the show. And the singers/chorus/orchestra are gelling in a wonderful way, so you should definitely consider a return visit before it's over.

Axel Feldheim said...

I pretty much had the same reaction to Jamie Barton's singing. I'm almost embarrassed that I'd never even heard of her before this. Thanks for letting me know about Russell Thomas. I will definitely plan on checking him out!