Saturday, 17 September 2016

A curate’s egg in the catacombs (ROH/Norma)



Bellini, Norma (Antonio Pappano cond. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House).
This was something of a curate’s egg on opening night (12th September). Probably it was disappointing. Audience, critics and those on twitter were divided, and in many cases conflicted. The production was odd. Lots of crucifixes. Was it a catacomb? Was it a setting spare from Don Carlo? Why was ‘Cast diva’, the highlight of bel canto, that breath-taking aria, for many the point of Norma, sung from a gantry which looked like it had been welded at short notice for a papal visit to a remote island? The setting of all as types of Christian was odd: it made the text hard to parse, and it was unclear what the meaning of the thing was. That said it didn’t really get in the way of the music or the plot. 
Sonya Yoncheva in Àlex Ollé's Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper
Vocally, this wasn’t on particularly solid ground. The first to sing was Oroveso. Brindley Sherratt, and it seems he was singularly ill-cast, as the role did not suit his voice and he seemed to struggle throughout. The title role was Sonya Yoncheva’s, and she took some time to warm up; I was not entirely convinced by her dramatically, but her voice did get there. Adalgisa (Sonia Ganassi) had a fine voice but she was vocally close to Yoncheva, which conflated the plot slightly. Joseph Calleja was a big draw too. He too took a while to warm up, but when he got going he was splendid by the final scheme. As Flavio, David Junghoon Kim was very good indeed.
Production photo of Àlex Ollé's Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper
Children at the start of Act II were great, with more than a touch of the Glyndebourne Turn of the Screw about the stark white setting.
I’ve never been less than astounded by Pappano’s conducting, but tonight the pit seemed unsympathetic, too fast, and at times excessively percussive.
Overall, I think that by the end of the run, this maybe quite decent. However, it really underscored Bartoli’s brilliance. Bel Canto really benefits from period instruments: see Semiramide at Proms, or Norma in Edinburgh. 
When it got going, it was pretty decent, but essentially it was all a bit unever.
In cinemas 26/9, and on Radio 3 5/11.

Cast and creative team
Pollione - Joseph Calleja
Adalgisa - Sonia Ganassi
Flavio - David Junghoon Kim
Clotilde - Vlada Borovko
Cast & creatives
Music - Vincenzo Bellini
Libretto - Felice Romani
Director - Àlex Ollé
Associate director - Valentina Carrasco
Set designer - Alfons Flores
Costume designer - Lluc Castells
Lighting designer - Marco Filibeck
Conductor - Antonio Pappano
Norma - Sonya Yoncheva
Pollione - Joseph Calleja
Adalgisa - Sonia Ganassi
Oroveso - Brindley Sherratt
Flavio - David Junghoon Kim
Clotilde - Vlada Borovko
Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

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