By 1981, when this production was taped for Canadian television, Joan Sutherland's voice was unquestionably past its prime. But even in its decline, that voice remained something quite special, and the role of the troubl... more »ed Druid priestess Norma was one of her specialties. A substantial advantage in this recording is the presence at the podium of her husband and coach, Richard Bonynge, who had a deep understanding of the strengths and limitations of her voice and stage persona. His pacing and balance give the voice opportunities to challenge, at least momentarily, the ravages of time. Lotfi Mansouri, one of the great operatic entrepreneurs of the late 20th century, assembled a first-class supporting cast for Sutherland--most notably Tatiana Troyanos, to whose memory this video is dedicated. The performance of Troyanos in the role of the younger and equally troubled priestess Adalgisa is outstanding and would make this disc worth having even without its documentation of Sutherland. As far as it is possible to determine, this is the only video opera appearance of tenor Francisco Ortiz. On the basis of his performance as the Roman officer Pollione, he seems to have deserved more attention. Bass Justino Diaz gives a sterling performance as the old Druid Oroveso, and this production is, overall, preferable to the earlier Australian Opera video of Sutherland's Norma. --Joe McLellan« less
George Nadur | Valsayn Park South Trinidad and Tobago | 07/30/2001
(2 out of 5 stars)
"This Opera may be considered among the better ones. Not in the league of Aida, or Rigoletto, or Carmen. However, well sung and presented, it can be made to exude magical qualities. With Joan Sutherland (JS) as Norma, and Tatiana Troyanos (TT) as Adalgisa, I expected a thoroughly satisfying experience. I had never before heard of Francisco Ortiz (FO, - as Pollione), but then this Opera is mainly for the lead female singers.What do you have instead?First of all, mono sound! Yes a mono recording made in 1981! Did not stereo recordings become standard in the `50's or `60's? Do the sound engineers (assuming there were any) at the Canadian Opera Company (COC), having failed to record in stereo, not heard of enhancing mono sound for stereo, without any loss in quality. Poor marks for this!Then the lighting! Could the COC not afford to pay their energy bills in the period preceding this presentation? As it is, there appears to be only one spotlight, and that shines brightly on the front and center stage. All else is dark and murky, and depressing. I cannot comment on the stage props or the costumes of almost all of the supporting performers, as they can barely be seen in the all-pervading shadows. Then the performance! It might as well be a series of still photographs, with some movement in the lips to confirm that the performers were all alive and not cardboard cutouts. Was this really why the lighting was turned down? Even so, why were all the shots made from a static position? Did they have cameramen of average competence, to pan the cameras a bit, to put some life in the shots?By the way, both JS and TT were supposed to be temple virgins, but they played what they were at the time - stogy middle-aged. women. FO deservedly did not go very far in the opera world. In that, justice was subsequently done.No libretto was supplied, and this has become standard for DVD presentations. It is needed in this case however, as the English sub-titles (which incidentally, cannot be turned off), are very sparing. A lot of the nuances in the singing were therefore lost.The opera did end eventually, or I should really say, expire. This presentation, which lacked dynamic energy and was quite boring at times, simply fizzled out an the endThen why do I still give it two stars? Simply because JS's singing was generally superb, and so to a lesser extent, was TT's. Viewed as a presentation of arias, and not as a whole opera, there were redeeming moments.Please avoid this DVD, which certainly does not deserve a premium price. Buy something else instead, and wait for another presentation to do some justice to Bellini's good composition."
The Bitter Truth
Stephen McLeod | New York, NY USA | 06/09/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Things, as W.B. Yeats famously observed, fall apart. Here in this vale of tears, there is certainly no shortage of reminders, memento mori, that "the center cannot hold." This DVD is, among other things, such a reminder. By 1981, Sutherland's voice had clearly begun its journey south. This performance, with the Canadian Opera Company, betrays an instrument that, while still agile and capable above the staff, is frankly painful to listen to below it. The first 15 minutes or so, then, including the excruciatingly aweful "Casta Diva" should simply be skipped, except by the morbidly curious. Toward the end of Act I, however, Sutherland has warmed up, and there are moments, most notably in the great ensemble pieces, and her opening second act scene, where this recording more than justifies its flawed existence.That said, there will be too much to forgive for some viewers: impresario Bonynge's pedestrian conducting, the frankly amateur chorus and supporting singers, the Pollione of Fransisco Ortiz, who has nice legs but who may never have had a single musical thought, and the dreadful quality of the videography. Sometimes a night at the opera is as much an act of loyalty as pleasure, and very few singers have as fair a claim to such loyalty as does Sutherland. Buying a video might also be such an act, but no one should be fooled into believing that this video is an exemplary document. It is not. Of course afficionados will want it anyway, and there is still much to recommend it. First, every time Troyanos took the stage, everything about the production, including Dame Joan's voice, improved. Thus, the vocal highlights of this DVD are certainly the great Norma/Adalgisa duets. Second, even though Sutherland's voice is half-gone (and I can't stress enough how truly painful the "Casta Diva" is on this DVD), in 1981, she still had remarkable chops in the fioritura department. Third, and not least, although there is another Sutherland *Norma* floating around out there on VHS, I believe it's out of print, and it was fairly distressing in its own right anyway. That means that this is the only available video performance of this greatest of all non-Verdi Italian operas. This DVD gets three stars for one reason only: Troyanos, who lit up my life every moment of this performance in which she appeared, and who coaxed what greatness was left from La Stupenda in the duets. That means you'll probably want to have it despite its flaws. But forewarned is forearmed: If your expectations aren't too high, you'll probably enjoy the virtues of this recording, even while enduring its faults."
Sutherland's Norma on DVD -- A Must Have
Scott Holmes | Wilmette, IL United States | 04/27/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This recent release from VAI of Bellini's Norma with Joan Sutherland is a must have for any serious opera video collector. The performance from Toronto on May 4, 1981 features, along with Sutherland, the Adalgisa of Tatiana Troyanos, the Oroveso of Justino Diaz and the Pollione of Francisco Ortiz. Richard Bonynge conducts. The production is traditional (a relief in these days of ghastly, updated, Star Wars/Eurotrash productions), with rocks, spears, robes, Druid warriors in animal skins, with helmets and even horns! But the most important reason to own this video is the pairing of Joan Sutherland and Tatiana Troyanos. There are many wonderful documentations of the Sutherland/Horne duets -- and they are unforgettable, but this rarer coupling is quite exciting because the duets are taken in the original key and at the end of the second duet, Troyanos matches Sutherland on an exultant High C that brings the house down. Watching this and her other videos of Les Troyens, Cavalleria, Don Carlo, and Rosenkavalier from the MET just highlights what a tragic loss her early passing was to the musicworld. Sutherland is in fine voice, warming up as the evening progresses. Her authority and ability to convey the many moods of this heroine silence the critics who say she could not act -- simply look at the expressions on her face when learning of Pollione's betrayal and her subsequent confrontation with him. Ortiz gives a solid performance, thoughnot a memorable one in the class of Domingo or Carrerras. He is a handsome Pollione and his legs are on show most of the evening. Richard Bonynge's conducting is stylish and idiomatic, always giving the singers enough room for expression and rubato. The subtitles are not removable and there is an intrussive announcer between scenes and at the curtain calls. Video quality is fine (much improved over the "pirate" Beta and VHS tapes which have floated around for years. This performance comes highly recommended although there is no region code listed on the box or on the enclosed and very minimal chapter sheet. Also try and find the ANNA BOLENA which has been released along with this NORMA -- that IS truly a classic with the young James Morris and Judith Forst joining Sutherland with fireworks of their own."
Fine singing in spite of reviews!
D. J. Edwards | Cheshire, CT United States | 07/18/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I find the reviews a real puzzle. It seems that there are two distinct dvds of this Canadian opera production: I have one version and nearly everyone else has another. Sutherland's "casta diva" is not ugly. It is finely sung. There is no strain. The timber is rich as always Forte singing is full, rarely on the edge and always movingly sung. When she joins Troyanos in the duets the singing does become greater. Soft notes are beautiful to hear. If Ortiz as Pollione is not the best, he deserves much more credit than he gets for the good singing that he does deliver. He doesn't sound under parted to me. If a reviewer has to compare him to Corelli or Del Monaco that's their loss. Few can match either of them. Troyanos triumphs as most reviewers agree. Her loss will never be replaced for its sincerity, integrity, beauty of timber and the radiance of her personality. Diaz and the rest of the cast are also fine. I think Bonynge does a really good job with the orchestra. He has often been under-appreciated and unjustly maligned. The overture is a little fast but in general everyone does themselves credit. The four stars I give is with reluctance, it deserves five, but the sound and picture quality are distracting at time. The packaging is up roar. The video is dedicated the memory of Tatiana Troyanos which I thought was a very professional touch. This dvd deserves to be seen and heard. You may not buy it but I don't think you'll regret having heard it either. The Caballe Norma is extraordinary.. Tat l'Orange performance is immortal. Comparisons make us partisans not lovers of beautiful music beautifully sung. I am very happy to have this dvd in my collection."
Not Sutherland's best
Stephen McLeod | 08/15/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"As wonderful as Dame Joan's voice is to me. I never found her singing of Casta Diva to be accurate, I think most of the aria lies in the lower part of the soprano range, and that is tough for her. So she has to push, and there is a beat in her voice in her later years. I also find a lot of off keyed high notes hear, and that is unforgivable in bel canto opera. The golden voice is half gone. I would recommend this only if you've already heard the young Sutherland. We don't want you to think that this is what she sounded when she was the toast of the operatic world. Because this voice on this tape is only 1/2 of the voice she had 10-30 years ago. However, if you want to hear La Stupenda when she was the reigning queen of bel canto, I would recommend the follow VHS tapes. The singing in those are magnificent.The "Voice of Firestone" The "Bell Telephone Hour" The "Age of bel canto""