Bellini - Norma

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Customer Reviews:

  • A great Norma, vocally!
    I agree completely with the reviewer who gave only 4 stars to this DVD because of almost bordering on "euro-trash". What are soldiers in Roman occupied Gaul doing running around in trench coats, carrying rifles and smoking cigarettes?
    Now, vocally this is an amazing production. Who could tell that Gruberova will be producing such glorious sounds this late in her career, Sonia Ganassi sounds great, and in their duetti they just sound heavenly.
    Sorry, that I could not go for the fifth star....more info
  • Not Eurotrash!!
    I wish that some of the reviewers would take the trouble to go beyond the standard traditional settings of operas and try to extend themselves. I admit that some directors are over the top (the Opus Arte Norma directed by Guy Joosen is a case in point), but seeing similar productions over and over does get a bit tedious. But, even the Joosen production is worth seeing because if nothing else it helps sharpen one's critical skills.

    This production is emotionally very evocative. Certainly it is spare, but one does not need to throw enormous sums of money making an elaborate set a la Met to produce an effective opera. What more does one need for the public scenes when there is excellent lighting, demarcated floor spaces, an altar, a gong and well-directed choreography? What more does one need than a claustrophobic subterranean area in which to hide the children and in which to have the private scenes? Try your own imagination. Further, the spare sets allow the audience to focus on the psychological interpersonal aspects of the opera -- and Jurgen Rose's direction certainly brings that out. The emotions and dilemmas in this opera are timeless, so why need it be set in Roman times? Certainly you Americans should be well versed in public figures who rail against sexual expression only to be found out having sexual peccadillos (and worse) themselves.

    The acting/singing from all the cast is superb. It is a wise performer who knows when she is ready for a role -- and Gruberova certainly knew what she was doing in waiting. (Would that June Anderson had waited before coming up with her Norma Lite.) Certainly, she is just about on a par with Caballe's excellent performance in Orange -- and the vision and sound in this production are so much better. And, I must emphasise, the set, is so much better as well; although the Mistral in Orange does add a certain frisson.

    So now we have two Normas for the ages. Wonderful....more info
  • Pure Enjoyment
    Gruberova is one of the best sopranos living today. But since she almost never performs in the US, Americans do not experience her wonderful voice -- except through her CDs.

    Norma is also not performed often, given the vocal demands and the lack of singers who can sing it well.

    In this CD, we have a truely winning combination....more info
  • Intriguing, refeshing new concept and approach
    Here is an intriguing new concept and approach to Bellini's near-masterpiece. Filmed in the early part of 2006 at the Bavarian State Opera, the performance comes across as a tightly-focused drama that plays up the dilemmas of the characters in a very intimate and personal way.

    The direction, sets and costumes, are all by J¨¹rgen Rose. There
    were some comments in initial reviews about the ugliness of
    it, but I like it. It does not get in the way of the drama,
    and actually enhances it. It is stark, dark and austere,
    residing in a perpetual, sinister night that never abates.
    I do not get in what period it is supposed to be set; some
    of it looks primitive, some of it looks faintly Middle
    Eastern; the pointed guns during the "Guerra!" chorus
    modernizes it. Overall, though, you do get a sense of a
    cultish sect, one very tribal and ritualistic. The
    dominant colors are black and blue, and it works in lending
    an eerie atmosphere, and looks forbidding and ominous.
    Oroveso is put in priestly robe and cap, while the men's
    chorus look like guerrilla warriors. The women's chorus and
    Adalgisa are all in black robes and head-snoods, and they
    look impressively clannish. Norma herself comes out in a
    patterned robe with a brilliant blue head-snood and
    "tribal" crown: it sets her apart as the head priestess. Act
    two features her in a simple black, somber shift, which she
    adorns with a robe and a crown for the "Guerra!" chorus.
    Pollione and Flavio are in what look like tan Foreign
    Legion uniforms. Go figure.

    The set itself is quite innovative, a cinematic, two-tiered setup in which the top part is accessed by stairs. The top part is the gathering place of the druids and priestesses, dominated by a large gong, and
    in the first act, by a mistletoe branch prominently
    displayed; in front of the gong appears to be what is a
    sacrificial block, from which Norma draws her knife. The
    lower part of this set is accessed by a trapdoor, from
    which Norma emerges in her first scene. This descends to
    stairs into Norma's dwelling, which is stark, and bare,
    dominated by a triangular geometric pattern in the back
    which is mirrored on the floor. This set effectively shows
    Norma as hiding her indiscretions from the world, and
    forced to dwell underground in a kind of purgatorial hell,
    anxious about her treason and the danger of her position.

    Friedrich Haider demonstrates how to handle
    the score (which is the complete Ricordi version), knowing just about how to accompany his singers, while taking rapt care to delineate all the textures of
    the orchestrations. Furthermore, the impetus of the drama is
    wonderfully brought out: in particular, the moment following 'Son io!' has
    a tension, dread and sense of woebegone shock.

    The direction of the cast is quite inspired and often innovative. No concert in costume, this. Rose really plays up the love triangle, and has them playing off each other very actively; they all seem to be listening intently to
    the words communicated. One thing Rose did very astutely
    was to highlight the importance of the children. They are
    used like real children, with Norma reprimanding them as a
    real mother does, and they are made to be part of the
    drama; she uses them to illustrate her position in the
    trio, and you get the definite sense of what causes her
    anguish and conflicting feelings. Rose has Pollione, hands
    bound, tied to the sacrificial block for most of "In mia
    man"; it works in showing Norma's dominance over him (in the usual stagings you never get the sense that Norma has enough strength or speed to plunge a knife into Pollione, a trained warrior; but here, tied up and powerless, he is convincingly at Norma's mercy). For
    Norma's last scene, we see Adalgisa amongst the chorus,
    thereby increasing the tension.

    The performance is cast from strength. Oroveso is not a
    very interesting character, but Roberto Scandiuzzi, deep of
    voice and suitably implacable of bearing, is convincing
    enough. Zoran Todorovich is a masculine,
    committed Pollione, an excellent actor who rises superbly
    to the drama. His voice is baritonal and slightly
    guttural, and not ideally flexible. His opening aria is pushed and loud, and blatantly unsubtle, and it does not help that the aria is thumpingly conventional. He is credible as the impassioned warrior, though, as well as lover; he woos Adalgisa most persuasively. Sonia Ganassi, an outstanding artist, is a sensational Adalgisa, vocally and histrionically. Warm of
    tone, flexible of voice, sympathetic of character, she
    presents an effective counterpart to Edita Gruberova's
    high-strung Norma. They form an ideal partnership,
    blending, shading their duets together with elan and
    precision. Furthermore, Ganassi really presents Adalgisa's
    own dilemma with unerring skill. Besides that, she's a
    charming presence, completely believable as the object of
    Pollione's affections.

    For Gruberova, this daring undertaking as Norma represents a near-end of career triumph. Here at 59, you hear a voice that is in astonishingly good condition: agility and legato intact, no wobble, no decline of her middle and top registers, none of that scratchy "old-soprano" sound. That Gruberova made her staged debut as Norma at 59 and doing indefatigibly, and undefeatedly so well in the process must be a one-of-a-kind achievement, not likely to be matched.

    However, it must be said that this is not the Norma of tradition. That is, of 20th century tradition, of the casting of a dramatic soprano. Anyone expecting booming, pungent chest declamations will not find them here and may well be disappointed - especially if they learned to hear Norma in a traditional way. This factor is likely to be a dominant one for many; for others, it is an alternative, a supplemental realization. Montserrat Caball¨¦'s best captured performance - of any role of hers - of Norma from Orange will obviously serve as a more "classic" traversal on video for some; but why be stuck with one approach when you can have multiple interpretations.

    In the high-coloratura realm, Gruberova has a larger, more substantial voice, and can sing powerfully on high, but a strong chest register has never been hers. In those few, crucial, low-lying phrases throughout, she does not try to force what she does not have, but gamely gives her best, and compensates by accenting and articulating the words forcefully. On the other hand, the role's more frequent extensions into the upper register are handled with an ease that few dramatic sopranos can manage. There are numerous high Cs throughout, loud and soft, plus all the passages that require filigree legato, and a certain pliancy. Here is where Gruberova scores, shaping Bellini's lines eloquently, infusing them with dynamic vividness.

    Dramatically, Gruberova portrays Norma as a vastly troubled woman, in constant turmoil between loyalty to her country, her broken vows, and the discovery of Adalgisa and Pollione's treachery. This portrayal is more the woman than the warrior, and you see that Norma's personal feelings are what cause her downfall: this aspect is played up very strongly. The costumes, wigs and makeup are not flattering to Gruberova, making her appear rumpled and harsh; but you see that this Norma is exhausted, high-strung, strained in spirit, preoccupied - and perhaps the reason Pollione opted for the warmer, younger Adalgisa.

    There are many memorable moments throughout in this portrayal, that stand out:

    * `Sediziose voci' - Coming up from below her
    subterranean dwelling, Gruberova's authoritative stride and
    stance command the stage. Stern of face, this crucial opening
    flashes out with fire, rhythmical impetus and vigor; what
    may surprise is the fullness of the attack on middle voice,
    and a welcome chestiness I've not heard before; witness `e infranta cada.'

    * `Casta diva' - sung in G, it is fluid, silvery, barring a couple of slight blurs and flatting of turns; the repeated Bs, up to the C, are sung disconnected instead of joined together. The second verse, `Tempra o diva,' is sung even quieter, with a hushed, beautifully poised stillness.

    * `Ah, bello a me ritorna.' Perhaps the best acted of any I've seen. Gruberova does not merely stand and deliver this rather uninspired cabaletta as a trumpeting afterthought. She acts out the meaning of the text physically, facially and vocally - it is an aside for Norma, describing her pulsing excitement, joy and conflict at recalling Pollione's love. There's something else too, perhaps revelatory. At first hearing, her singing of this sounds different from all previous renditions, the coloratura passages more `connected,' deceptively slurred together rather than of distinctly articulated notes. Here's why. Practically every soprano turns the words in several of the florid runs into "Ah's, or even "Ha's, so that you hear HA-ow-hahaha-HA, ha, ha, ha, haaaaa." Gruberova sings on mainly all the consonants and different vowels as it is written in the score, a much more difficult thing to do. As a result it sounds less sprightly and defined; you cannot sing words into scales and insert the "ha's" without distorting the line. Therefore, the divisions sound less articulated. Not a terribly important point, but nevertheless an interesting factor.

    * The blending, give-and-take and interaction between Ganassi and Gruberova in their duets (both sung in their original, higher keys). These two communicate thoughts, words feelings, physically and vocally, not just standing there facing the audience.

    * The finale to Act One - where you see all the principals in a mess of confusion and shock; Gruberova's "O non tremare" is sung with gusto, and she finishes off the act with a soaring high D.

    * The opening of Act Two is atmospheric, and Gruberova superbly realizes Norma's desolation, pacing around aimlessly, deeply troubled. "Teneri figli" is long-lined, expressive, and the moment of the near-stabbing of her children is gripping.

    * `In mia man" is Gruberova's heaviest challenge in the score. Lacking ideal heft in the lower regions of here voice, she nevertheless is helped by the staging, and her grave articulation of the text.

    * But it is the point of "Son io," on that caps it all.
    Brian Large is the video director, and he keeps the camera
    mainly on Gruberova. When she confesses, you see a kind of
    astonished shock immediately following the words. Norma
    immediately takes off her ceremonial robe, crown and knife
    (which, like a warrior, she has in her hands constantly
    throughout the performance), and lays it on the floor. The
    memory that has lingered strongest is in the section of
    "Norma non mente." Looking like a veteran classical
    actress, you see in Gruberova's large, hurt-stung eyes,
    burning an implicit combination of relief, exhaustion,
    shame, and humility, while she intones the words, heavy in

    * 'Deh! non volerli vittime,' to the end of the opera, scales near-Olympian heights of tragedy. Singing in the most penitent and pleading accents of tone, Gruberova makes Norma's absolution and sacrifice believable. The performance here and the power of
    Bellini's music is momentous.

    This NORMA will obviously not replace or even be a first choice or consideration for an ideal representation - and nor should it serve as the first or last word. But for those wanting to hear an enticingly different slant and interpretation of this peerless opera, you may find many felicitous aspects to enjoy.

    ...more info
  • Ignore the Nitpickers - There Isn't a Better Performance Around
    All the great Normas of whom I'm aware (Callas, Sutherland, Caballe and, distantly in time, Ponselle) were betrayed in one way or another by their supporting cast. Or, if not their cast, the conductor.

    Not this time. This is a magnificent performance and the magnificence emerges as early as the overture - which soars.

    All the supporting cast - and make no mistake, NORMA is Norma's opera and that is as it should be - all the supporting cast is excellent and they sing their bel canto with intelligence as well as accuracy.

    I still love all the old recordings and dvd's but this one in two minutes assumed a very special place in my heart.

    ...more info
  • Not quite perfect
    This is a very enjoyable recording. The modern setting was very tasteful but I must admit I sure missed the breast-plated, bare-legged Romans you usually get in this opera. Also, the priestesses had to wear robes that covered their neck and head so only their faces were showing which did not compliment Gruberova well being in her later years for the Casta Diva scene. However, she looked quite good with her hair down during the rest of the opera. Otherwise the setting was pleasing enough. There was some strange direction in the last duet between Norma and Adalgisa where Norma continued to be distraught instead of relieved and happy to have renewed their friendship. Even the audience seemed a bit surprised and their applauding at the end seemed intrepid, as though they were confused by the acting. I was - it didn't fit the words.

    All the singers are quite enjoyable. Ganassi sings a lovely Adalgisa and her acting is touching. Scandiuzzi is a handsome-voiced Oroveso, and Todorovich is a heroic-sounding Polione. Although he has a bit of an accent, his manner of both singing and acting has a bit of an Italianate feel. I think he is Serbian. Anyway, I thought he was pretty enjoyable.

    Which brings me to Gruberova, whom I am a fan of. I always purchase whatever recordings I can find of hers and find her voice tremendously beautiful and her coloratura outstanding. Her voice here is quite powerful in the middle and upper range and she seems to have no real trouble at all singing the role the way she wants to. Her coloratura is unearthly. There is one flaw in her singing however that leaves me a little disappointed on some of these later recordings of her: Her lower register - she tends to fade out on the lowest notes and seems very averse to switching to chest register. This did not seem to be such a problem for her in past years. Aside from that, her singing is quite impressive in this video. Her acting is very acceptable.

    I think I have seen all the commercial Norma videos and this is the best and it rivals the best of any of the audio recordings I have of the opera.

    The audio engineering could have been done better - you will find yourself constantly adjusting the volume unless of course, you don't have any close neighbors and can just let the loud bits blast away. But if it is not quite loud, you will not be able to hear the quiet bits. A common problem on DG recordings I have found....more info
  • thriumph for Gruberova!
    I would have given this DVD of Norma five stars, except for the fact that the production was bordering on "Euro-Trash"!!! The duets between Gruberova and Ganassi were worth the price of the DVD!...more info
  • A good try by great artist, BUT...
    I am going to take exception to virtually everyone here about this performance. I won't comment at all on the virtues or lack thereof of the production. This is all about Ms. Gruberova and, thus, the success of this production must predominantly rest on her shoulders. Kudos, by the way, to Sonia Ganassi, who is an exceptionally beautiful bel canto singer and actress who fully grasps the Italianita of the role of Adalgisa, originally written for a lighter soprano to contrast with Norma.

    Bellini wrote Norma for a soprano "dramatica e de agilita" or a "dramatic soprano with agility." While Ms. Gruberova certainly has great agility, she is far from ideal as far as dramatic weight. I was lucky enough to attend one of her Norma's in Munich. As with the great Beverly Sills before her, Gruberova is essentially miscast. Norma must have a powerful MIDDLE voice -- a spinto of the likes of Callas, Ponselle, Caballe, and Sutherland. [Hearing this DVD with amplification and sound mastering is very different from the natural acoustics of the Bavarian State Theater.] Ms. Gruberova has enjoyed a long and varied career, carefully husbanding her resources as she has undertaken heavier roles like Norma, Anna Bolena, etc. It seems like just a few years ago that she was a delightful Oscar (Abbado DG) and Zerbinetta, roles for a leggiero (or light voice). While she manages, a la Sills, to sing (most) everything correctly, she does not have the essential power in the middle and lower registers to sing Norma as, I believe, Bellini intended. Her war cries of "Sangue," "Guerra" should amply fill the house, which they did not. As ever with Ms. Gruberova, she avoids pushing for a larger sound, so she has never developed the tremolo and excess wobble that forced Sills into an early retirement. But her success, then, is a success d'esteme, not by nature. Taking on heavier and heavier roles has not ravaged the voice to her credit, but she has not built up the middle and lower registers a la Sills and Scotto [at the expense of the top].

    To sight an example of what kind of voice Norma is written for, Kirsten Flagstad was the ideal Norma for Edward Johnson, a former Metropolitan Opera singer himself and manager of the MET before Rudolf Bing. After Ponselle retired, Mr. Johnson felt Flagstad would be ideal. Flagstad had a natural trill and agility, a gorgeous middle voice, and, of course, power in spades. It was only at the final dress rehearsal that Flagstad decided to pull out of the role, to the dismay of Johnson and all admirers of the great Norwegian soprano.

    In addition, I hear Gruberova's rendition of "Casta Diva" a bit differently as the others apparently do. [It has remarkably remained unchanged from her EMI recital from the early 1980's.] While the decorations interpolated on the line are spectacular and in great taste, she smudges many of "those little notes" -- as Birgit Nilsson said of the vocal hurdles of Norma. I do not hear any other inaccuracies, to her credit.

    I will say that Ms. Gruberova makes a valiant try and succeeds in many ways. However, I find her to be an exceptionally stolid actress here. If you contrast Ganassi with Gruberova, Ganassi is animated and constantly reacts to the text in an appropriate way. Gruberova, by contrast, shows us none of the rage and fury of the character, not just by vocal means, but also by her acting. Sadly too, by correctly waiting until her "golden years" to undertake such a dramatic role, Ms. Gruberova's [now] matronly appearance is a sad liability. Close-ups are painful. In fact, it may be cruel to say, but this great diva often looks like Norma's mother, rather than a realistic and attractive rival to Adalgisa for Pollione's attention. This dramatic distraction is a fact that I cannot ignore, especially on this DVD with its many close-ups, rather than in a large theater like the Statsopera.

    In summary, this performance is a fascinating adjunct to other performances. I will take it off the shelf often to enjoy its strength which certainly include Ms. Ganassi and the many interesting things Gruberova brings to the role. However, it is emphatically not a first choice. My first choice remains the spectacular open air Orange performance dating from the 1970's with Caballe's magnificent, heroic Norma, Josephine Veasy's idiomatic Adalgisa, and the fascinating Jon Vickers as Pollione under the direction of Giuseppe Patane [VAI]. For those who prefer Sutherland, there are several excellent versions of her Norma as well. For those of us who dream of a complete film of Callas' early Norma, we must wait in vain.
    ...more info
  • Very Good Singing, Very BAD production.
    I would not recommend this version of Norma. Though Gruberova is solid vocally,she plays the Druid priestess, in a very subdued manner which is acceptable considering her age and the vocal demands of the role. The other players are good but not spectacular and Haider's conducting is erratic.(Norma seems to be a problem for even the greatest conductors)

    All this would make for a decent opera if the Jurgen Rose production wasn't so visually horrendous. First let me say I am a traditionalist and I believe music written hundreds of years ago doesn't fit with a modern setting, especially if the setting is thousands of years before the composer's time, as is the case here. The costumes are terrible. The Romans look like WWI Fusiliers. The Druids look like Arabs.They even have machine guns and ski masks. This doesn't work when the subject matter is the liberation of Gaul from Rome. Norma's children look like extras from a holocaust film, they are quite disturbing. To top it all off some things like the altar, mistletoe, woad, and spears(why they need spears when they have machine guns is beyond me) add an odd touch of authenticity.

    The point is that the singing,while good enough for a recording, is overshadowed by the atrocious and amateurish production....more info
  • Why not 5 Stars?
    No doubt, this whole DVD is all about Gruberova. I have no problem to give five stars to this DVD just based on her performance. Then I think I should deduct some points for whatever else that I don't like.
    There are so many elements in a production of an opera: the set; the lighting; the costume; the concept of the stage director; the orchestra/chorus/conductor; and ultimately, the singers (after all, their voice is what we all came to hear). The quality of a DVD also comes into play. Fortunately, this disc was made using the latest technology, not a re-mastered piece; the quality of the disc is the best I have ever seen.
    By now I already get used to those minimal settings on the opera stage. This one does not upset me. But, can they put just a little bit more stuff on the stage? For one thing, I do agree with Archie that using an underground cave as a hideout for Norma and her children is a clever way in the setting. However, it was not obvious and I did not click the first time when she walked up to the stage from down there.
    The costume, which I think has quite a bit to do with the stage director's concept, it agitated me a little at first. I thought I was seeing the Romans in today's army uniform but the Gauls wore ancient clothes. What a match? As stage directors often transform the period of the plot to suit today's situation, then I thought it might be the Gauls were being portrayed as Muslims (in today's clothing, sort of). The idea is being that Christians (Romans) and Muslims don't mix (they are enemies in the plot). Remember the Crusaders? I might guess it wrong. But I would let it go this way for now. It should be clarified that in no way I am trying to inject any political correctness (or incorrectness) here. Just tried to figure out what was going on on-stage. Still, the army uniforms and the machine guns are bothersome.
    Now, the singers: Read through all the existing reviews, I did not find anything else but just nice words that please both Gruberova and Ganassi. I don't think I can (or need to) add anything more to it other than cheer along with them, with enthusiasm. In addition to the fine work of this two singers, the conductor and his orchestra have done an excellent job; their performance were totally first rate. Very seldom one could experience such fabulous sound from the pit. A thumb way up is in order. My big problem is with the tenor. I really cannot stand the way he shouted all the way in the first act. Though he finally came around in the second act. It is quite common that singers need time to warm up. Why took the entire first act to do that? The problem is not just the screaming. Though not a good thing, many tenors do that quite often. In this case he let all the air out from his lung (sounded like chest voice, or something else, not exactly know what it was). Using chest voice constantly is really bad. Then, he swung his body a lot, even more so when he scream. Too much acting!
    ...more info


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