Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Bellini - Norma|
Actors: Edita Gruberova, Sonia Ganassi, Zoran Todorovich, Roberto Scandiuzzi, Friedrich Haider
Director: Jurgen Rose
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Gruberova scores an artistic triumph as Norma
Robert Petersen | Durban, South Africa | 03/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Gruberova waited long before tackling Norma on stage, and this DVD confirms that the wait has been worth it. Having released a concert performance on CD which was recorded in 2005, her first staged performances were recorded by UNITEL in January/February 2006 at the Bayerische Staatsoper. I must admit that looking at Gruberova, one sees an older woman, which is obvious, given that she was almost 60 at the time of this recording. However, age has not seemed to have taken its toll too heavily on her vocal resources. It was probably the need to rise to the occasion that made this recording all the more special. Munich assembled an outstanding supporting cast and Haider, ever the loving and sympathetic conductor, allowed his wife to shine. His interpretation of Bellini's score is, in my opinion flawless and even better than the CD recording. The audience love Gruberova and the performance is one to listen to over and over again. This will probably be the ideal performance for many, however, Jurgen Rose's sets, costumes and direction will disappoint those who prefer a more traditionlist approach to the opera, with a minimal set and the chorus flasing guns at certain moments. Musically, there are no cuts and Gruberova sings Casta Diva in G, as well as both verses of of her ensuing cabaletta. Mira o Norma, with a wonderul Ganassi as Adalgisa, is sung in the high key, with both voices blending beautifully. Todorovich bawls his way a bit through the ungrateful role of Pollione and Scandiuzzi is sonorous as Oroveso. There is even an 11 minute feature on the making of the production, as well as short interviews with the stars. With superb DTS sound and picture in high definition colour, this is one DVD I have and will return to many times over!"
Intriguing, refeshing new concept and approach
Niel Rishoi | Ann Arbor, MI USA | 09/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Here is an intriguing new concept and approach to Bellini's near-masterpiece. Filmed in the early part of 2006 at the Bavarian State Opera, the performance comes across as a tightly-focused drama that plays up the dilemmas of the characters in a very intimate and personal way.
The direction, sets and costumes, are all by Jürgen Rose. There
were some comments in initial reviews about the ugliness of
it, but I like it. It does not get in the way of the drama,
and actually enhances it. It is stark, dark and austere,
residing in a perpetual, sinister night that never abates.
I do not get in what period it is supposed to be set; some
of it looks primitive, some of it looks faintly Middle
Eastern; the pointed guns during the "Guerra!" chorus
modernizes it. Overall, though, you do get a sense of a
cultish sect, one very tribal and ritualistic. The
dominant colors are black and blue, and it works in lending
an eerie atmosphere, and looks forbidding and ominous.
Oroveso is put in priestly robe and cap, while the men's
chorus look like guerrilla warriors. The women's chorus and
Adalgisa are all in black robes and head-snoods, and they
look impressively clannish. Norma herself comes out in a
patterned robe with a brilliant blue head-snood and
"tribal" crown: it sets her apart as the head priestess. Act
two features her in a simple black, somber shift, which she
adorns with a robe and a crown for the "Guerra!" chorus.
Pollione and Flavio are in what look like tan Foreign
Legion uniforms. Go figure.
The set itself is quite innovative, a cinematic, two-tiered setup in which the top part is accessed by stairs. The top part is the gathering place of the druids and priestesses, dominated by a large gong, and
in the first act, by a mistletoe branch prominently
displayed; in front of the gong appears to be what is a
sacrificial block, from which Norma draws her knife. The
lower part of this set is accessed by a trapdoor, from
which Norma emerges in her first scene. This descends to
stairs into Norma's dwelling, which is stark, and bare,
dominated by a triangular geometric pattern in the back
which is mirrored on the floor. This set effectively shows
Norma as hiding her indiscretions from the world, and
forced to dwell underground in a kind of purgatorial hell,
anxious about her treason and the danger of her position.
Friedrich Haider demonstrates how to handle
the score (which is the complete Ricordi version), knowing just about how to accompany his singers, while taking rapt care to delineate all the textures of
the orchestrations. Furthermore, the impetus of the drama is
wonderfully brought out: in particular, the moment following 'Son io!' has
a tension, dread and sense of woebegone shock.
The direction of the cast is quite inspired and often innovative. No concert in costume, this. Rose really plays up the love triangle, and has them playing off each other very actively; they all seem to be listening intently to
the words communicated. One thing Rose did very astutely
was to highlight the importance of the children. They are
used like real children, with Norma reprimanding them as a
real mother does, and they are made to be part of the
drama; she uses them to illustrate her position in the
trio, and you get the definite sense of what causes her
anguish and conflicting feelings. Rose has Pollione, hands
bound, tied to the sacrificial block for most of "In mia
man"; it works in showing Norma's dominance over him (in the usual stagings you never get the sense that Norma has enough strength or speed to plunge a knife into Pollione, a trained warrior; but here, tied up and powerless, he is convincingly at Norma's mercy). For
Norma's last scene, we see Adalgisa amongst the chorus,
thereby increasing the tension.
The performance is cast from strength. Oroveso is not a
very interesting character, but Roberto Scandiuzzi, deep of
voice and suitably implacable of bearing, is convincing
enough. Zoran Todorovich is a masculine,
committed Pollione, an excellent actor who rises superbly
to the drama. His voice is baritonal and slightly
guttural, and not ideally flexible. His opening aria is pushed and loud, and blatantly unsubtle, and it does not help that the aria is thumpingly conventional. He is credible as the impassioned warrior, though, as well as lover; he woos Adalgisa most persuasively. Sonia Ganassi, an outstanding artist, is a sensational Adalgisa, vocally and histrionically. Warm of
tone, flexible of voice, sympathetic of character, she
presents an effective counterpart to Edita Gruberova's
high-strung Norma. They form an ideal partnership,
blending, shading their duets together with elan and
precision. Furthermore, Ganassi really presents Adalgisa's
own dilemma with unerring skill. Besides that, she's a
charming presence, completely believable as the object of
For Gruberova, this daring undertaking as Norma represents a near-end of career triumph. Here at 59, you hear a voice that is in astonishingly good condition: agility and legato intact, no wobble, no decline of her middle and top registers, none of that scratchy "old-soprano" sound. That Gruberova made her staged debut as Norma at 59 and doing indefatigibly, and undefeatedly so well in the process must be a one-of-a-kind achievement, not likely to be matched.
However, it must be said that this is not the Norma of tradition. That is, of 20th century tradition, of the casting of a dramatic soprano. Anyone expecting booming, pungent chest declamations will not find them here and may well be disappointed - especially if they learned to hear Norma in a traditional way. This factor is likely to be a dominant one for many; for others, it is an alternative, a supplemental realization. Montserrat Caballé's best captured performance - of any role of hers - of Norma from Orange will obviously serve as a more "classic" traversal on video for some; but why be stuck with one approach when you can have multiple interpretations.
In the high-coloratura realm, Gruberova has a larger, more substantial voice, and can sing powerfully on high, but a strong chest register has never been hers. In those few, crucial, low-lying phrases throughout, she does not try to force what she does not have, but gamely gives her best, and compensates by accenting and articulating the words forcefully. On the other hand, the role's more frequent extensions into the upper register are handled with an ease that few dramatic sopranos can manage. There are numerous high Cs throughout, loud and soft, plus all the passages that require filigree legato, and a certain pliancy. Here is where Gruberova scores, shaping Bellini's lines eloquently, infusing them with dynamic vividness.
Dramatically, Gruberova portrays Norma as a vastly troubled woman, in constant turmoil between loyalty to her country, her broken vows, and the discovery of Adalgisa and Pollione's treachery. This portrayal is more the woman than the warrior, and you see that Norma's personal feelings are what cause her downfall: this aspect is played up very strongly. The costumes, wigs and makeup are not flattering to Gruberova, making her appear rumpled and harsh; but you see that this Norma is exhausted, high-strung, strained in spirit, preoccupied - and perhaps the reason Pollione opted for the warmer, younger Adalgisa.
There are many memorable moments throughout in this portrayal, that stand out:
* `Sediziose voci' - Coming up from below her
subterranean dwelling, Gruberova's authoritative stride and
stance command the stage. Stern of face, this crucial opening
flashes out with fire, rhythmical impetus and vigor; what
may surprise is the fullness of the attack on middle voice,
and a welcome chestiness I've not heard before; witness `e infranta cada.'
* `Casta diva' - sung in G, it is fluid, silvery, barring a couple of slight blurs and flatting of turns; the repeated Bs, up to the C, are sung disconnected instead of joined together. The second verse, `Tempra o diva,' is sung even quieter, with a hushed, beautifully poised stillness.
* `Ah, bello a me ritorna.' Perhaps the best acted of any I've seen. Gruberova does not merely stand and deliver this rather uninspired cabaletta as a trumpeting afterthought. She acts out the meaning of the text physically, facially and vocally - it is an aside for Norma, describing her pulsing excitement, joy and conflict at recalling Pollione's love. There's something else too, perhaps revelatory. At first hearing, her singing of this sounds different from all previous renditions, the coloratura passages more `connected,' deceptively slurred together rather than of distinctly articulated notes. Here's why. Practically every soprano turns the words in several of the florid runs into "Ah's, or even "Ha's, so that you hear HA-ow-hahaha-HA, ha, ha, ha, haaaaa." Gruberova sings on mainly all the consonants and different vowels as it is written in the score, a much more difficult thing to do. As a result it sounds less sprightly and defined; you cannot sing words into scales and insert the "ha's" without distorting the line. Therefore, the divisions sound less articulated. Not a terribly important point, but nevertheless an interesting factor.
* The blending, give-and-take and interaction between Ganassi and Gruberova in their duets (both sung in their original, higher keys). These two communicate thoughts, words feelings, physically and vocally, not just standing there facing the audience.
* The finale to Act One - where you see all the principals in a mess of confusion and shock; Gruberova's "O non tremare" is sung with gusto, and she finishes off the act with a soaring high D.
* The opening of Act Two is atmospheric, and Gruberova superbly realizes Norma's desolation, pacing around aimlessly, deeply troubled. "Teneri figli" is long-lined, expressive, and the moment of the near-stabbing of her children is gripping.
* `In mia man" is Gruberova's heaviest challenge in the score. Lacking ideal heft in the lower regions of here voice, she nevertheless is helped by the staging, and her grave articulation of the text.
* But it is the point of "Son io," on that caps it all.
Brian Large is the video director, and he keeps the camera
mainly on Gruberova. When she confesses, you see a kind of
astonished shock immediately following the words. Norma
immediately takes off her ceremonial robe, crown and knife
(which, like a warrior, she has in her hands constantly
throughout the performance), and lays it on the floor. The
memory that has lingered strongest is in the section of
"Norma non mente." Looking like a veteran classical
actress, you see in Gruberova's large, hurt-stung eyes,
burning an implicit combination of relief, exhaustion,
shame, and humility, while she intones the words, heavy in
* 'Deh! non volerli vittime,' to the end of the opera, scales near-Olympian heights of tragedy. Singing in the most penitent and pleading accents of tone, Gruberova makes Norma's absolution and sacrifice believable. The performance here and the power of
Bellini's music is momentous.
This NORMA will obviously not replace or even be a first choice or consideration for an ideal representation - and nor should it serve as the first or last word. But for those wanting to hear an enticingly different slant and interpretation of this peerless opera, you may find many felicitous aspects to enjoy.
A good try by great artist, BUT...
OperaLover | Fort Lauderdale, FL | 08/30/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I am going to take exception to virtually everyone here about this performance. I won't comment at all on the virtues or lack thereof of the production. This is all about Ms. Gruberova and, thus, the success of this production must predominantly rest on her shoulders. Kudos, by the way, to Sonia Ganassi, who is an exceptionally beautiful bel canto singer and actress who fully grasps the Italianita of the role of Adalgisa, originally written for a lighter soprano to contrast with Norma.
Bellini wrote Norma for a soprano "dramatica e de agilita" or a "dramatic soprano with agility." While Ms. Gruberova certainly has great agility, she is far from ideal as far as dramatic weight. I was lucky enough to attend one of her Norma's in Munich. As with the great Beverly Sills before her, Gruberova is essentially miscast. Norma must have a powerful MIDDLE voice -- a spinto of the likes of Callas, Ponselle, Caballe, and Sutherland. [Hearing this DVD with amplification and sound mastering is very different from the natural acoustics of the Bavarian State Theater.] Ms. Gruberova has enjoyed a long and varied career, carefully husbanding her resources as she has undertaken heavier roles like Norma, Anna Bolena, etc. It seems like just a few years ago that she was a delightful Oscar (Abbado DG) and Zerbinetta, roles for a leggiero (or light voice). While she manages, a la Sills, to sing (most) everything correctly, she does not have the essential power in the middle and lower registers to sing Norma as, I believe, Bellini intended. Her war cries of "Sangue," "Guerra" should amply fill the house, which they did not. As ever with Ms. Gruberova, she avoids pushing for a larger sound, so she has never developed the tremolo and excess wobble that forced Sills into an early retirement. But her success, then, is a success d'esteme, not by nature. Taking on heavier and heavier roles has not ravaged the voice to her credit, but she has not built up the middle and lower registers a la Sills and Scotto [at the expense of the top].
To sight an example of what kind of voice Norma is written for, Kirsten Flagstad was the ideal Norma for Edward Johnson, a former Metropolitan Opera singer himself and manager of the MET before Rudolf Bing. After Ponselle retired, Mr. Johnson felt Flagstad would be ideal. Flagstad had a natural trill and agility, a gorgeous middle voice, and, of course, power in spades. It was only at the final dress rehearsal that Flagstad decided to pull out of the role, to the dismay of Johnson and all admirers of the great Norwegian soprano.
In addition, I hear Gruberova's rendition of "Casta Diva" a bit differently as the others apparently do. [It has remarkably remained unchanged from her EMI recital from the early 1980's.] While the decorations interpolated on the line are spectacular and in great taste, she smudges many of "those little notes" -- as Birgit Nilsson said of the vocal hurdles of Norma. I do not hear any other inaccuracies, to her credit.
I will say that Ms. Gruberova makes a valiant try and succeeds in many ways. However, I find her to be an exceptionally stolid actress here. If you contrast Ganassi with Gruberova, Ganassi is animated and constantly reacts to the text in an appropriate way. Gruberova, by contrast, shows us none of the rage and fury of the character, not just by vocal means, but also by her acting. Sadly too, by correctly waiting until her "golden years" to undertake such a dramatic role, Ms. Gruberova's [now] matronly appearance is a sad liability. Close-ups are painful. In fact, it may be cruel to say, but this great diva often looks like Norma's mother, rather than a realistic and attractive rival to Adalgisa for Pollione's attention. This dramatic distraction is a fact that I cannot ignore, especially on this DVD with its many close-ups, rather than in a large theater like the Statsopera.
In summary, this performance is a fascinating adjunct to other performances. I will take it off the shelf often to enjoy its strength which certainly include Ms. Ganassi and the many interesting things Gruberova brings to the role. However, it is emphatically not a first choice. My first choice remains the spectacular open air Orange performance dating from the 1970's with Caballe's magnificent, heroic Norma, Josephine Veasy's idiomatic Adalgisa, and the fascinating Jon Vickers as Pollione under the direction of Giuseppe Patane [VAI]. For those who prefer Sutherland, there are several excellent versions of her Norma as well. For those of us who dream of a complete film of Callas' early Norma, we must wait in vain.
Stanley H. Nemeth | Garden Grove, CA United States | 03/16/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Wonderful singing by the principals and fine conducting make this a memorable performance. The by now conventional aspects of the staging and costumes (minimalism in the sets, pointless mixing of eras and apparently deliberate ugliness in the costumes) are easily ignored when one hears Gruberova's and Ganassi's undeniably beautiful way with the bel canto line. No doubt Bellini himself would have approved, if he had been lucky enough to have had a duo of their caliber."