Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Daniela Dessė, Fabio Armiliato, Kate Aldrich, Antonello Ceron, Rafal Siwek
Genres: Musicals & Performing Arts
Norma as outdoor Greek tragedy
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 02/17/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Whether or not librettist Felice Romani had Medea in the back of his mind when he wrote Norma for Vincenzo Bellini in 1831, it is obvious that there are certain similarities in plot and mood. That inevitable comparison is heightened with this outdoor production in the huge amphitheater that is Sferisterio in Macerata Italy. Filmed in gorgeous high definition, with a minimalist set that is discretely decorated with Celtic symbols as well as Buddhist, pre-Columbian, Roman and even African signs, the mood is ancient, mythic, even Jungian. The feeling of attending a Greek tragedy as an outdoor religious observance is palpable. This is opera as ancient festival and it heightens the experience greatly. There is no denying the impact this dvd makes just with its visual elements.
The performances are slower, more monumental in scope than in an indoor opera house. Perhaps the visual distances involved make this necessary. But it has the ancillary effect of heightening the outdoor ritual aspects of the performance. We might be in a Celtic grove amongst sacred trees, stealthily watching a Druidic ceremony. This Norma looks and feels big and luckily we have two hefty voices to fill the void. Dimitra Theodossiou as Norma has a large voice that manages to fill this vast theatrical space. Daniela Barcellona as Adalgisa has another big voice. Both are well equipped to sing these two problematic roles. Norma's difficulties are well known: Beverly Sills once recommended that the singer of the part wear comfortable shoes. And Norma nearly destroyed Renata Scotto's voice. All of the vocal performances in this production are quite good. The acting is as well, though we are witness to much broader performances than usual, given the size of the venue.
The Orchestra Regionale delle Marche is conducted by Paolo Arrivabeni. As this is an outdoor performance, some aspects of the strings are lost in the open air and the horns are naturally emphasized. Technically, the instruments of the orchestra are nicely recorded, sounding rich and full enough both in PCM stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1, and they play quite well. The film itself is beautiful in its high definition crispness and visual clarity. The cameras emphasize close-ups, when necessary, but usually linger in the middle distance for an orchestra distance view. The opera runs for 165 minutes on two discs with no extras and a booklet written in four languages.
This is a monumental open air Norma, the outdoor aspects of which I found both appropriate and enjoyable. It's not vintage Callas or Sutherland but it is enthralling in its own way. Recommended.
A sign of our times
Wayne Leigh | Singapore | 12/03/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Ms Dessi braved a sabotage phone ring and went on to triumph in her role as Norma. That is true. But while this triumph puts her on par with the other non-coloratura exponents of Norma such as Papian & Theodossiu, it certainly does not make her (or any of them) successors of Callas, Sutherland or Caballe. One has to lower one's expectations of coloratura to appreciate Dessi's Norma. Her tone is not exactly beautiful either. But drama she gives us, and in this diminished form, Bellini's Norma still manages to move us. Kate Aldridge is a good mezzo Adalgisa, but we must not expect a Ludwig or a Troyanos here. As for Fabio Armiliato's Pollione, the thuggish hero has been reduced to a puppy. Why would Norma bother with such a toy boy beats me!
Well, such is the current state of our operatic scene, and this is the best kind of Norma we can expect to see nowadays (along with Papian and Theodossiu). Gruberova and June Anderson, of course, would get the coloratura correct. But the role came late in their careers, and they are not known to be fiery actresses... but I still hope for surprises!"
Anachronistic performance of title role
Niel Rishoi | Ann Arbor, MI USA | 03/01/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
Norma: Daniela Dessi
Pollione: Fabio Armiliato
Adalgisa: Kate Aldrich
Oroveso: Rafal Siwek
Clotilde: Marie Luce Erard
Flavio: Antonello Ceron
Director: Federico Tiezzi
Sets: Pier Paolo Bisleri
Costumes: Giovanna Buzzi
Conductor: Evelino Pido
Bologna, April 2008
This production, while very striking, is a ponderous mishmash of styles and means. It's Dolce e Gabbana meets Classical meets Gladiator meets Minimalist meets Abstract. The contrasts, colors and shadows/light atmosphere are all very sharp, shiny and slick. The costumes are (mostly) high couture, flowing, elegant and sensual/sexy. Hunky six-pack breastplates for the male chorus. I've never seen a Norma more beautifully coiffed (knee length henna-colored cornrows - which several of the cast & chorus feature as well) and outfitted - DeMille resplendent. It's an Italian fashion pageantry show - all tableaus are like Dolce e Gabbana ads, circa 50 B.C., with some zipped-through-time anachronisms. But Pollione has an American Revolutionary War (I think or is it Civil War?) -styled outfit, with long-coat, tall boots. Every time I see him here, I think John Wilkes Booth.
There are some puzzling directorial inflictions. Why is Oroveso at the outset in a monk-styled robe, and the character made to be so enfeebled that he has chorus supers holding onto him? In other instances, direct contact amongst characters is minimal. In many cases, they're lined-up, department store-mannequin-style, symetrically, statically placed.
The performance itself is something of a throwback. Something you might have found in Italy during the 1950s, in the provinces. Solid-average in one way, but not very inspired or out of the ordinary.
Siwek has a nice, warm bass sound, but doesn't have the towering nobility of the greatest Orovesos (there's not much a bass can do with it).
Pollione is not a very vivid role either, and Armiliato does what he can. It's not a very distinguished sound, and he sings "Meco all'altar" (a thumping piece which Bellini had planned to change at some point) rather stolidly (he leaves out the high C on 'sensi'). But he does soften the tone at "Vieni in Roma" persuasively. Other times he pumps the sound as loudly as possible.
The young American mezzo Kate Aldrich is a very warm, appealing Adalgisa, feminine, fresh and beautiful in appearance. Of all the principals, she is the most winning *and* sincere (her opening solo is one of the most touching I've ever seen). You can sense she's worked very diligently on her portrayal, and it's exactly this eagerness that wins one over. The voice, rounded, and soft-grained, is quite evenly produced, and she uses it with a great deal of sensitivity.
Dessi's Norma incites the sharpest recall of the Italian soprano of an earlier time. A soprano whose repertoire mainly consists of verismo roles. It might have been the kind of Norma that came B.C. (Before Callas); a voice that is vibrant, slightly shivery, inclined to be raucous on top, and not very flexible or malleable (as Callas's was). Think a (much) smaller voiced in the tradition of Cigna, Pacetti and Caniglia. In many ways she is like Hasmik Papian in the role nowadays: conventionally adequate, but not authoratative in the music's demands. Some may welcome this strong, rather punchy sound - but be sure, it is not lithe or graceful. I learned that Dessi sang some bel canto earlier in her career, but I can scarcely hear such evidence: she is most decidedly NOT trained for this genre, and you can hear it plainly. Coloratura passages are scrappy and heavy-handed.
"Sediziose voci" begins promisingly. There is a welcome gutsiness to the phrasing, although; Dessi's eyes are often darting (insecure?), unfocused, sometimes just blankly baleful. Stock arm/hand gestures. I don't think Dessi is served well by the camera: her eyes betray her - she looks around constantly, at the conductor, and her stares out into space are disconcerting: you wouldn't see this in the audience, but the closeups on video reveal that she's not disappearing into either the character, or the music: she seems not to be "feeling" the rhythms of the music internally. Could be that these are her first-ever Normas.
"Casta diva" in F - is very plainly sung. Dessi moves from note to note efficiently enough, but without any real dynamic contouring or delicate taperings; when she tries to reduce the volume, it becomes constricted. The upward ascensions beginning at "a noi volgi" are certainly pumped out, but the tone spreads, and the top note goes sideways. The 'senza vel' figurations are stiff and bumpy. The cabaletta, shorn to one verse, is taken slowly; but it still is ungainly and heavy-footed; those fleet, sensual figurations are completely unrealized.
Neither is Dessi particularly astute or imaginative in her recitative, though her diction is pungent and clear. That long section beginning at "Vanne e li cela entrambi" is especially crucial, because it gives us some key elements to Norma's motives, as well as her conflicting emotions. Dessi creates no sense of tension, of something being at stake. I have been listening to Scotto's Norma from Houston, 1978. No one does this section as well as she, for there is a myriad of colors, nuances which you get from no other Norma. For example, Scotto's intoning of 'Nol fossi' has a real sense of regret and irony, beautifully conveyed; Dessi just throws this line away.
You only have to look at Aldrich and Dessi in their first duet to see the difference between rapt involvement and just sitting there: the mezzo is positively engaged in her music making/performance, whilst the soprano shows not a shiver of inner conflict; the eyes just look out blankly, a dull Coffee Tawk scenario. Her divisions are taken carefully, belabored; the top is either squally or constricted.
Dessi rouses herself for "O, non tremare," sung with gusto, and fire - a place where her wiry top gives great payoffs: it scalds with anger, and she seems relieved to have something strong to feed off of, and she rises to it.
She sounds a bit off rhythmically for the double trio concluding the act, as if she can't move the voice fast enough to keep up (Pido often has to slow down just for her). No high D: talk about missing it here!
Though "Dormono entrambi" is a bit unspecific - but the "Teneri figli" is long-lined, eloquent, and the best singing by Dessi here.
"Deh, con te" and "Mira O Norma" are both taken down to B flat and E flat, respectively. It's not particularly distinguished - the two's voices don't blend well, and the contrast is muddied, not glistening or sweet-toned.
"Ei tornera" - Dessi wallops out that high C (which should be caressed and sweet toned) in that lovely *a piacere* phrase. However, the belted high C in the "scorreran" sounds just right ;-)
The duet "In mia man" - the direction and performances are just ridiculous, lame. Pollione is simply on his knees - not tied up, not held at knife/spear point - Norma has no stranglehold on him whatsoever. Real-life husband and wife Armiliato and Dessi just regard each other contemplatively, with no sense of danger. Dessi circles him serenely, you even catch a smirk from her at one point. She begins the line with due gravity, but her physical mien is unruffled - she almost looks as if she were about to seduce Pollione - "Do you know my fury is greater than yours?" - passes for nothing. "Tremi alfine? Indegno? e tardi" has no menace implied. As usual, the last several bars of the duet is shortened.
"Son io" has not the hushed release necessary; and the chorus reacts with no shock whatsoever.
For Norma's final scene: I am by now convinced that this portion has never been ruined or casually shrugged off by any soprano I've heard, and this includes Dessi (though she judders a bit at the highest portions). It is a testament to Bellini's genius at this point: the music nearly sings itself. By the way Bellini has set the text to music, it would be exceedingly difficult for the soprano to fail. She has as well the orchestration, the responses of Oroveso, Pollione, and the chorus: the interweaving of all produces a genuine alchemy of monumental power and pathos. In some ways, this most lyrical of sections is the most congenial of endings for the soprano to sing: Donizetti in contrast, has final scenes that require a tireless, superhuman stamina and energy to the very end.
The staging here, though, undercuts Norma's involvement with Oroveso; during "Deh! non volerli vittime" the director has padre standing away and off to the side, and Norma scarcely addresses him. Dessi, though she just stands facing the audience, is obviously feeling and responding to the music.
But, as it always happens...I get gut-punched at the precise moment where Norma's final 'di lor pieta' from the "Deh! non vollerli vittime" modulates into her "Padre tu piangi," with Oroveso and the chorus backing. Right at that modulation, when those penitent, remorseful flute "tears" purl in, I am immediately overtaken by the haunting, hypnotic, eerie power of the tonal palette. My reaction is so automatic, yet it catches me off-guard every time; my intellectual response is replaced entirely by an emotional one. Scarcely another piece of music conveys a character's transformation of absolution as devastatingly as this does.
So how does this compare to other Normas on video? For the staging - others are far better, though this one may be the prettiest. The Norma: about on a par with Papian. No comparison whatsoever to Caballé from Orange - her absolute finest document on video. Theodossiou in her first DVD is far, far better than Dessi in every way. Sutherland sings the role with an ease Dessi can't even approach - but you'll have to take into account that Sutherland is captured late. Anderson tries a lot harder than Dessi and scores points for involvement, even if vocally she falls short. Gruberova - I have to leave it (necessarily) that reaction as personal, but...if you can wonder if Dessi SINGS the role as well as Gruberova, answer: heck, NO.
Venue Bad For The Sound
Noam Eitan | Brooklyn, NY United States | 05/11/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
"This Norma is a total disaster on every front. All the singers sound terrible and the staging is an impressive fiasco. Theodossiou and Ventre were in much better voice in the previous Norma Dynamic DVD, but the staging there was even worse. I can't believe that both Theodossiou's and Ventre's voices deteriorated so bad in just 2 years - I think the problem with this production is the huge flat outdoor space with dead acoustic. I think that explains why everyone, including the chorus sounds bad and strained. I heard Simon Orfila in Barcelona 2 years before this production and he did not sound so thin. I also heard Barcellona live 2 years earlier and she did not sound so bad. The chorus does not have an impact because they are spread in one line a mile left and right. I don't understand how anyone can perform in such a space without electronic amplification. The staging looks impressive on photos but it is no more than a series of static symmetrical postures inspired by Delacroix's or David's paintings with no dramatic force. For once I agree with the "Gramophone" magazine's reviewer John Steane who trashed this DVD from every angle ("Unfortunately, on almost every count, this Norma is a definite no-no.").