Norma – Théâtre des Champs-Elysées

I came to Paris to see Samson et Dalila, by Saint-Saens, at the Opera Bastille, at 2:30 pm on Sunday. On Friday night I get an email saying that there is probably going to be a strike at the Opera, and the performance “may be affected”. For those of you who don’t know, there have been quite a few strikes in Paris, with performances being cancelled.

So I curse my black star, and I start looking for alternatives. On Saturday morning I realize that Cecilia Bartoli is singing Norma at the Theatre des Champs Elysees, I run to the box office, and I buy one of the last available tickets! Performance is at 5pm on Sunday. I’m happy as a lark.

Sure enough, Sunday morning the Opera says that the strike is cancelled, and the performance of Samson et Dalila will take place. So now I have different options:

  1. Try to sell the Norma ticket
  2. Try to sell the Samson ticket
  3. Go see Samson, run away at 4:15 pretending to be sick, and run to the Champs Elysees to see Norma
  4. Go see Samson until the end, and then go see the second act of Norma.

If you know me, you know what I chose.

La Bartoli!

I decided to try to sell the Samson ticket, and, if I didn’t manage, I would go for option 3. Luckily I managed to sell it, so here is the review of Norma, with Cecilia Bartoli!

It is the same production that I saw in Salzburg and reviewed then, so I will try not to repeat myself. She is as amazing as ever, I honestly don’t understand when and how this woman breathes. I liked it even better than in Salzburg, I was much more emotionally involved, god knows why. I cried several times, at Casta Diva, at Dormono entrambi, and in the final of the opera. Her cabaletta Ah bello, a me ritorna was so fast that the winds in the orchestra, who play the tune before she sings it, were in serious trouble keeping up. She flew through it without a thought.

The finale atto primo was maybe even better than in Salzburg. This woman is terrifying, when enraged. Her Tremi tu? is so powerful, so scary, that you expect Pollione to just run for his life. That’s what you get with Bartoli as Norma: powerful, scary chest notes, still wonderfully set and supported.

Sì, rea, oltre ogni umana idea

The production still sucks though. I really cannot bring myself to like it. It has some good things, of course, for example the beginning of the second act, where the curtain lifts up to reveal Norma sitting on the floor, her legs in an awkward position, like a broken doll, an almost empty bottle next to her, a beam of light coming from the side. It’s a very powerful image. And of course, as I have already remarked for the Salzburg performance, the fire on the stage! It’s REALLY cool and it brings out all the emotion of the moment.

There were some differences in the cast, with respect to Salzburg. Notably, Norman Reinhardt replaced John Osborn as Pollione, and the replacement was not for the best. I really like John Osborn, and this Reinhardt guy is just not at the same level. He wasn’t bad though. In this production Pollione is extremely cocky and arrogant, in the first act, and this guy does not do cocky and arrogant very well. But he does pathetic and emotional extremely well, so the finale of the opera came out really good. He did so well in the finale, that I will forgive him his shortcomings in the first act. He gave a very very emotional interpretation, truly heartwarming.

Dormono entrambi

Also Oroveso was sung by another singer than in Salzburg, Péter Kálmán, who replaced Michele Pertusi. Pertusi is such a rock, that there was very little hope of any improvement. Kàlmàn has a big metallic voice, and that’s about all I remember. He’s not offensive, nor particularly remarkable.

Adalgisa was instead still Rebeca Olvera, and she confirmed the very good impression she gave me. She has a very strange voice, with a very beautiful high register, light and bright, very good coloratura, but the voice has its center in the middle. It’s hard to explain. It’s like hearing a mezzo with the coloratura of a light soprano. I really like her.

Sola, furtiva, al tempio

The orchestra and the conductor were the bit that left me less convinced. The orchestra is extremely good, we  are talking of I Barocchisti, no less. But the choice of tempi of the conductor Gianluca Capuano was unusual at best. Some things were “normal”, some at an unbelievable speed, like the cabaletta, as I have already mentioned, or the trio in the finale atto primo, or the duet Norma-Adalgisa Ah fino all’ore estreme. Once again, as in Salzburg, Deh non volerli vittime  had a tempo so slow that I thought Bartoli was going to die. She didn’t flinch, of course, and the result was magnificent.

Also, although I like the baroque instruments sound, I must say that the brass in certain points was very pots-and-pans-like, rather unpleasant. For example the attack Norma viene, or the end of the first act.

It was an amazing triumph. Everybody stood up as soon as the curtain went down and started screaming, the reaction of the audience was overwhelming. And deservedly so. This is a great Norma.


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