Norma – Palau de les Arts

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norma777A wonderful production, one of the best I’ve seen. Very traditional, but powerful, with modern details, which were perfectly tuned to the traditional concept (dancers, as forest elves, or maybe trees, who brought the woods alive, and also movie clips on the back of the scene). We need to send all opera directors in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to take courses in Valencia.
Norma was Mariella Devia! I went all the way to Valencia to see (or rather listen) what is left of her voice, at 67 years old, and I was amazed. It’s still one of the best voices of this century. The high notes are still the ones we remember, absolutely perfect, round and pointy at the same time, with a phosphorescent aftertaste. The legato, if possible, got even better, and the interpretation is perfect, with miraculous phrasing. Obviously, the coloratura is where time took its toll. Still perfectly in tune and precise, but the speed is gone. So, a slow cabaletta (“Ah bello a me ritorna”), and then “Deh non tremare, o perfido” painfully slow. She can’t make it anymore. Moreover, she loses focus every once in a while, and she completely missed one of the attacks in the middle of the trio at the end of Act I. But, man, a phenomenal Casta Diva, and at the beginning of the second act (when she thinks of killing her children) extremely emotional.
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The African-American tenor Russel Thomas (a huge man) sang Pollione, with a wonderful big voice. A spinto tenor (the second I hear in little more than a month!), he’s scared of nothing, has a truly huge and very beautiful voice. He’s not sophisticated: when he tries a pianissimo he produces a weird gurgling sound which is hard to relate to the great “spianato” singing you’ve heard until a moment before. He plays a lot on the pronunciation, opening the vowels a lot (finally!! a real Italian AAAAAA!), and he also opens a lot all the E sounds, with somewhat comical results, for an Italian native speaker like me. I really liked him, but unfortunately he sings almost exclusively in the US. American friends, go listen to him and let me know!

Adalgisa was Varduhi Abrahamyan, who I had already heard in Alcina, by Haendel, in Zurich, and I had liked her a lot. She’s a true contralto, which produced a very nice contrast with Devia’s high and brilliant soprano sound. She doesn’t venture into high notes, she wisely avoids them, with great results. However, in my humble opinion, she should keep singing Haendel. It seems to me that she has a better sense for baroque than for the romantic music, and, although I really liked her, I think she gets better results in Haendel.

norma_oroveso2Oroveso was Sergeij Artamonov, a Russian, who also has a huge nice voice, and who gave a very good interpretation. By the way, he had a really cool costume.

The orchestra conductor, Gustavo Gimeno, managed to give a quick and intense interpretation, notwithstanding the slow tempi needed by Devia in certain points. He really gave everything he got trying to keep everybody together when she lost her footing in the rhythm, or when she missed her attack.

PalauFinally, one word on the theatre. The Palau de les Arts is truly beautiful. It looks like a spaceship, a cyclist’s helmet, a bionic ladybug; google it and be amazed. It is also very beautiful on the inside, covered in blue tiles, and it has very good acoustics.

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