Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Bellini - Norma / Anderson Barcellona Hoon Abdrazakov Biondi Teatro Regio Parma|
Actors: June Anderson, Daniela Barcellona, Shin Young Hoon, Ildar Abdrazakov, Svetlana Ignatovitch
Director: Carlo Battistoni
Genres: Drama, Musicals & Performing Arts
GEORGE RANNIE | DENVER, COLORADO United States | 02/24/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Having grown up on Callas' "Norma", I've never heard or witnessed any performer (including Sutherland, Caballe, Sills or Scotto) except Maria Callas in her prime that came close to fully encompassing the requirements of that role. Subsequent perfomers that I've seen or heard, merely gave rather lackluster readings just being glad to get through it in one piece. Therefore, I purchased this DVD of "Norma" with June Anderson thinking that I would simply have a well sung, rather bland performance of this "Mount Everest" of soprano roles. After all, an opportunity to witness and hear a "Norma" does not come along too often. Further more, (although she is not appreciated, too much, here in America) I've always enjoyed the singing of June Anderson since she made her first recording substituing for Caballe in the 1980s recording of Rossini's "Moses in Egypt" on the Philips' label. I also own and enjoy many of her recordings consisting mainly of operas (and/or arias) of Donizetti and Rossini. In addition, I feel that her Met DVD of Rossini's "Semiramide" is awesome.
At the beginning of this performance of "Norma", June gives a cautious and rather tepid account of "Casta Diva" and its cabaletta--I really can't blame her, after all, she, an American, is singing the most difficult soprano role in all of Italian opera in front of a Parma Opera House audience; an audience that is known to eat and spit out non-Italian singers (they booed Callas unmercifully, at the beginning of her zenith--she never went back!). However, the audience deservedly gives the "Casta Diva" and the cabaletta a warm response; (expectedly, June, vocalizes the aria's floritura very well). After that hurdle, she and her voice warm up and by the trio that closes the first act, June Anderson is BLAZING! By the time she rounds on Pollione in "In mia man" , she has truly set the whole stage "afire". (The audience and I, by then, had been yelling our approvals over and over again!) She closes the opera with the most moving and heartfelt "Deh non Voleri vittime" that I have ever heard; it truly brought me to tears! At the end of the opera, I, as well as the audience were on our feet screaming Brava! (with the audience stomping their approval also) Not only did June, once past the "Casta" set the stage a blaze with her Norma, but she also managed to ignite the Adalgisa and Pollione.
Daniiela Barcellona sings a lush voiced Adalgisa; her duets with June are ravishing! I look forward to hearing more from her.
In the thankless role of Pollione, Shin Young Hoon starts of rather tight-voiced but by the time June is alight so is he giving a strong and resounding finish to the role.
The role of Oroveso is usually entrusted to a bass that has sung one "Boris Godunov" too many and having perhaps not too many singing days left. In this production, the part was given to Idar Abrazakov, a young man with a huge and resonate bass voice. I really feel that he has a spectacular career ahead of him!
In the past, I have always felt that the opera "Norma" contains passages that to be honest, are rather boring. Not in this performance! The conductor, Favio Biondi leads a thrilling account of the score; consequently, I was never bored!
The production is most enjoyable and the costumes are, as I feel they should be, rustic (no flowing chiffon(s) but animal skins --fake I'm sure--along with rough looking fabrics)There is one glaring exception to the aforesid and that is the horrible and most unflattering, moth-eaten wig that was given to Shin Young Hoon, as Pollione--if I had been him, I would have thrown it into the "ritual fire" ugh!
In closing, I truly feel that June Anderson's "Norma" should be more widely known--why isn't she singing this role at the Met" Based on this performance, I feel that it would have been far superior to Jane Eaglen's "Enorma" last season. For an exciting performance of Norma (once past "Casta Diva") do not hesitate to purchase this DVD. I'm sure June's performance will "blow you away" as it did me."
Aims much nobler than results
Niel Rishoi | Ann Arbor, MI USA | 03/27/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is an auspicious release in many ways. It could, and should, set THE standard for all and future NORMA performance practices, for it is more faithful to Bellini than practically any other rendering I have ever heard or seen. To begin with, it is more than complete, going beyond even the standard Ricordi score; Maurizio Biondi (brother of? uncle of? son of? father of? cousin of? - the conductor???) evidently consulted the autograph, and has made some important decisions regarding the textual factors - two of which I could readily discern (since Philip Gossett's name is listed on the credits, I wonder how much influence he had over the textual decisions; Gossett did an astonishingly thorough job in the Garland series of autograph facsimiles in sorting out all the endless variants, etc). The first, and which took me by complete shock, was the repeat of the *con dolore* melody in the prelude of Act Two. The first (and usually, the *only* one in standard performance practice) statement is done by cello; the repeat is a gorgeous weave of the cello, clarinet and flute - it deepens, intensifies the pathos in the melody, and sets up the scene more suitably. The *only* other place where this augmented melody is available in any respect whatsoever (that I know of) is on the 1984 Decca Sutherland recording. The second, and more likely addition, is the inclusion of the *maggiore* coda in the "Guerra!" chorus; however, unlike Sutherland, Anderson does not sing the ascending arpeggio during this section - too bad - it is a haunting effect. But what makes this presentation additionally felicitous is its complete faithfulness to proper *bel canto* practices; all the singers are endeavored to observe the rules of embellishing repeats. Contrary to fears that an uncut opera would seem longer, it strangely does not; Bellini's work seems *complete* in the sense beyond more textual restorations, in that there is a *finished* and seamless continuation of all the connected scenes. It would be naive of me to suppose that this dedication to restoring the composer's intentions will continue elsewhere, consistently; however, this document will, with any hope, demonstrate the merits of presenting Bellini's work as he would have wished; the idiocy of performing a corrupted version of his masterwork has got to stop, once and for all.
The other aspect of this production which really caught my attention are the sets and costumes. Forget all the phony, pseudo-classical, lily-white chiffon robes that seem to be the order of so many productions. We're in Gaul, 50 B.C. here. Norma, Adalgisa, and the Priestesses are decked out in heavy fabrics and animal skins; they look tough, rugged and as if they're protecting themselves against the elements. The warriors look real, ready for battle, and rustic. The sets are permeated by stony looking colors, and impart a realistically austere, somber atmosphere. A nifty bit of symbolism, without being too obvious, is the tree from which Norma cuts the mistletoe; it is fallen, and threadbare.
The singers are an interesting mix. Of the four leads, the finest singer by far is Ildar Abdrazakov as Oroveso. A tall, overpowering presence, he shows a smoothly produced, rock-steady tone. The bass declaims the text with a great deal of imagination, is a communicative actor, and really dominates the stage when he is present. Daniela Barcellona is also a communicative actress, really putting over Adalgisa's conflict and anguish quite vividly; her voice is warm, she sings expressively, and a real character emerges. She is not quite on top of her music, though; her technique is serviceable, but no more, and she's audibly nervous about the top part of her range - she gets off the highest notes as quickly as possible. Shin Young Hoon is the strangest Pollione I've ever seen. Befitted with a really crappy looking wig, and costumed to look like a warrior, it doesn't work for his small stature: all I kept thinking of was the Looney Tunes' little Martian - I half expected Bugs Bunny to materialize at any moment. Worse, though, is this tenor's physical and vocally blank expression. His eyes and face look positively dead, making Pollione seem like a passive, sleepyhead dimwit. There is absolutely no chemistry between Hoon and Anderson; they barely seem to acknowledge each other, even in their pivotal confrontations. Hoon's singing is efficient, no more. He manages the cabaletta to his aria better than might be expected, but the bleaty, hard-edged sound (which he seems to be setting with his jaw) is unappealing. This Pollione has nothing for Anderson's Norma to play against: her angst seems laughably unfounded.
This performance may be the best documented that June Anderson has ever given - at least, compared to what I have seen intermittently over the years. Her glossy Semiramide (preserved on video) was vacuous, colorless and a dramatically inert account of the role - not for an instant was she believable as the Queen of Babylon. I saw her Lucia in 1986 in Chicago - hers was the clichéd American approach - lots of running around, head swivelings, melodramatic overacting, and about the most inaccurately sung account of the score I've ever heard - flashy pyrotechnics aside - not a single trill could be discerned, not one dynamic sung other than mezzo-forte or louder. Other recordings and various telecasts, broadcasts failed to impress me; efficient coloratura apart, she never showed any of that "inner fire," nor much musical imagination nor a fundamental, singular personality. In fact, I always found her frustratingly too much the WASPy Anglo Saxon for the vivid emotions of Italian opera.
But this account of Norma really surprised me in many respects. For once, I found Anderson really appealing, not so much for her singing, actually, but by the sincerity of her aims, intents and purposes. We see Anderson working very hard to demonstrate both her feeling and understanding of the character, and admiration must go for her dogged determination to stay atop of the considerable demands of the role. Surprisingly, Anderson exudes sympathy and vulnerability; more than anything else, this carries her performance to it's level of success - a very personal one for her. The reason I say these qualities bode well for her, is that this soprano has never been a natural actress, a stage animal, if you will. Anderson can't seem to keep her hands still or use them to good purpose; they nervously flutter and wave around distractingly, sometimes in predictably symetrical gestures, and often are ill-timed in accord with the music. Moreover, though, you never get the sense that, when Anderson's characters are deeply conflicted, or filled with rage, that the emotions of the character are deeply manifest within her; the face effects a semblance of tastefully conveyed anger, but the body remains slack, composed; she has no physical charge, none of that inner fire which makes Norma's emotions overpowering to the audience. The rage at the end of Act One is lukewarm and restrained, and the necessary propulsion and tension in her duel/duet with Pollione is very disapointingly absent. On the other hand, Anderson shows real, collegial rapport with Barcellona in their duets, and a real sense of artist collaboration and of the characters' sisterhood emerges quite indelibly.
There are some new aspects to Anderson's singing, some good, others less so. There are a few crucial moments where she dips fearlessly into a strong chest voice, something which I never heard in the past. However, Anderson's formerly brilliant top is no longer as such. The many high C's are, more often than not, are wiry, narrow and incessantly hard, and a lot of sustained tones are often unsteady - the speeds of the vibrato can fluctuate within a phrase. No acuti are inserted anywhere - the D ending the first act is really missed. On the other hand, she endeavors to modulate the tone in some of the more lyrical portions of the music; "Teneri figli" and some sections of the duets with Adalgisa show more sense of dynamic variety and a true legato than I've ever heard her do in the past. Yet at other times, her middle range - not helped by her midwestern vowels - can be muffled and opaque. The "Casta diva" does not quite make it; the line stumbles in fits and starts, and the opening phrases don't really gel and connect as a smooth legato line. Part of the problem is an infirm middle register, and vowels which are unclear. Nonetheless, Anderson, kneeling in prayer, shows repose in her actual delivery of the aria's mood. The cabaletta, an expression of Norma's secret thrill of her love for Pollione, goes for nothing. The coloratura is dispatched with assurance, but it's not crisp and exciting.
Where Anderson really falls short is her delivery of recitatives, and making certain words memorable. "Sediziose voci," apart from the chesty "morra," is really lame. Elsewhere, one's attention can wander from the cautiously slow, unvaried manner of her delivery. There's no rhythmical impetus, no snap or authority in the tone. I was trying to think of an apt way to describe her method of line delivery - Greg Berg today described it perfectly - a "wilting" manner. She seems to approach-attack the tone slowly, starting out with a straight-edged tone, then releasing the vibrato; the vowels are often "whitened" in the drawing out of them, and it gives a monotonous coloration to her phrasing. I heard the audio version of this performance a year ago, and was not impressed; it was only seeing Anderson perform the role visually on this DVD that I gained respect for her efforts. The conscientiousness and sincerity (as stated above) is so much more impressive than the vocal results.
Anderson's final moments, as Norma makes her sacrifice, is quite moving without being overwhelming in its impact. Again, it's her all-out effort, and drive to give her best within her means, that she succeeds so well. Despite my reservations about Anderson's singing and neutral artistic persona, this autumnal documentation of a long and diligently handled career is, I think, a suitable "capping up," for it shows the soprano's best efforts and one of the seasoned trouper - making the most of what she had to offer.
Fabio Biondi, the conductor, has not the instinctive grasp of the score's pacing that so distinguished Tullio Serafin's accounts. Biondi pushes the tempos hard in some places; this damages the lyricism of "Mira o Norma," and makes "Meco all'altar di Venere" seem frantic.
Despite what seems to be a lot of reservations and microscopic cavils on my part, I find this performance fascinating in many respects, and I champion wholeheartedly the increasingly faithful performances practices of this peerless opera.
Gustavo Demarco | Buenos Aires | 06/21/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Although this performance has some merits, it is certainly not a reference video recording of Norma. It has some pluses and also big minuses. The pluses: a) Daniella Barcellona as Adalgisa, the highest star of the performance; b) Ildar Abdrazakov's Oroveso, very good indeed; c) the unusually agile tempi impressed by conductor Biondi; d) the chorus and orchestra are good; e) the duets of Adalgisa and Norma at the end of act 1 (before Pollione comes to spoil the trio). The minuses: a) worst among worst: Hoon's Pollione (awful acting, singing and diction; I wonder who did the casting; although the role is not the highest dream of a tenor's carreer, it was recorded by great tenors like Corelli, Pavarotti and Vickers in the past); b) the awful make-up including painted faces and heavy dresses that demanded additional efforts from singers; c) Anderson's poor "Casta Diva" (although some critics may think it is not the most important piece of the opera, it is a really disappointing start with the famous classic aria). Impossible not to compare her with the -really few- outstanding Normas (Ponselle, Caballe, Cerquetti, Sutherland and -of course- Callas). The result: A modern recording with the best existing sound and video technology; however, this video will not replace Caballe's (Orange Festival, 1974) and Sutherland's from the Australian Opera (end of the 70s). Recommended for Barcellona's Adalgisa."
yinloong | Malaysia | 03/30/2004
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I bought this DVD with great expectations especially from June Anderson but I suppose my expectations were too high as I've come away feeling disappointed. Casta Diva was not delivered well with a rather uneven tone and her singing throughout was also uneven with weak high notes with a slight tremolo. It does not help that the production contains a really two-dimensional tenor as Pollione! He is about as charismatic and as commanding as a piece of ply-wood! Together in the duets with June, they have successfully brought back the old tradition of 'stand and deliver' singing, which to a viewer, is as exciting and moving as watching a kettle boil. Barcellona as Adaligisa was the only performer worth watching and listening to. Impassioned and with secure tone, she essayed the duets superbly at some points even superseding Norma. Another word about Hoon as Polione, the next time you're interested in renting a horror, don't bother...just turn on this DVD...he reminds me of the zombies in 'Night of the Living Dead' avec the bad B-grade movie make-up!"