lietofinelondon

Putting the “No” in Norma

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on March 1, 2012 at 12:18 am

Review – Norma, Opera North, The Lowry (February 29 2012)

Norma – Annemarie Kremer
Adalgisa – Keri Alkema
Pollione – Luis Chapa
Oroveso – James Creswell
Clothilde – Gweneth-Ann Jeffers
Flavio – Daniel Norman

Director – Christopher Alden
Set Designer – Charles Edwards
Costume Designer – Sue Willmington
Lighting Designer – Adam Silverman

Orchestra & Chorus, Opera North
Conductor – Oliver von Dohnányi

Opera North’s production of Bellini’s Norma is proof that you can’t always get it right and never enter the theatre with preconceptions. After their magnificent production of Das Rheingold last season as well as their previous Maria Stuarda, I had high expectations that an evening of bel canto awaited.

Sadly I was disappointed almost from the beginning. At this point it should be noted that Norma is – and not for reasons of previous performers and productions – a notoriously difficult opera to get right. It’s deceivingly simple and no company takes on the challenges it presents lightly.

And I have to say that there was no evidence that Opera North had done anything but take this venture seriously.

But it simply did not work. Admittedly there were some moments of beauty and drama but they were in bold relief in an evening that lacked that spark that makes you sit up in your seat and lean forward.

Annemarie Kremer as Norma had an ‘almost-but-not-quite’ quality to her performance with an unusual but not attractive timbre to her voice. However this was a role too far as it overstretched her capabilities leading to both problems with both intonation and accuracy. Having said that on more than a few occasions she produced a beautiful sound which quite dominated the unfold drama. It’s interesting to note that this is the only bel canto role listed in her biography and it has to be said that consistently she struggled with the Bellini’s vocal lines. I would like to see her in other roles but think that the art of great bel canto singing will always elude her.

Adalgisa was strongly performed by Keri Alkema. Her rich soprano contrasted strongly with Kremer’s and in some ways hers was a more successful performance. However again the role was slightly ambitious and there were problems with both accuracy and intonation. However to has to be said that the opening of Act II was remarkable and raised the bar significantly – Kremer and Alkema creating that remarkable stage chemistry that had been missing in the first half. Sadly it didn’t last.

Bellini and his bel canto counterparts created some of the greatest – and most difficult – roles for tenors. Indeed productions of their operas can rise and fall on the quality and skill of the tenors in the cast.

Sadly, the tenor in this production failed. From the very beginning Luis Chapa struggled – his intonation was consistently erratic and he had neither the tessitura nor the flexibility let alone the stamina for the role. Again looking at the repertoire listed in his biography there as no evidence that bel canto was an area of expertise or experience. In fact his presence on stage almost became a distraction.

But there was a silver lining. The Clothilde of Gweneth-Ann Jeffers was remarkable and show-stopping in spite of the small role. Hers was warm rich mezzo that dominated the scenes she was in. I missed her at Opera Holland Park last year and now regret it. I will definitely be watching out for her future performances.

And the Oroveso of James Creswell was similarly noteworthy. A resonant bass (or is baritone) which a controlled and beautifully fluid voice. Again someone to keep an eye out for.

So what of the production itself. I have long admired the Alden Brothers and in particular Christopher Alden’s The Makropulos Case and Partentope for English National Opera. He has never really gone for the traditional approach and this one was certainly one that got me thinking.

It was kind of Appalachian-Spring-Meets-Little-House-On-The-Prairie-Meets-Shaker-Loops. I wasn’t convinced that it worked in Norma (particularly with the very precise subtitles) but what Alden did – and does so well – was bring to life the sense of isolation between the main protagonists and the society that they live in through some very clear direction of the principals and the chorus. It’s just a shame that the Lowry audience thought some moments were funny rather than dramatic.

The only disappointment? The non-existent pyre at the end. For some reason, in the style of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, I expected Norma and Pollione to Be crushed by the rather phallic tree trunk that dominated the set.

And finally to Oliver von Dohnányi and the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North. Truth be told the chorus seemed rather ragged at times but compensated with the wonderful sound that they produced. The orchestra didn’t have the burnished tone that I remember from Das Rheingold and von Dohnányi didn’t seem to drive the music forward.

But contrary to what you might think, it was an interesting evening. It made me sit and listen almost with greater discipline. It makes me hopeful that Giulio Cesare tomorrow night will dispel any sense of disappointment.

But I am going to try very hard not to get excited in advance as tonight reminded me that even Opera North is mortal.

Advertisements
  1. There are some interesting comments on ON web site. Hope you fare better with Cesare!

  2. […] after two evenings spent in the company of Opera North I have to admit that while I was impressed with their sense of ambition I was left with a real […]

  3. […] North it seems. A magnificent Das Rheingold but a disappointing Die Walküre. And productions of Norma and Giulio Cesare that were lacklustre and in the case of the Bellini, […]

  4. […] spend most of the evening either distractingly ahead of or behind the beat but having seen her as Norma and not being convinced I was not totally convinced by her Empress-in-Waiting. Vocally she seemed […]

Let me know what you think ...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Subitolove

Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

Kurt Nemes' Classical Music Almanac

(A love affair with music)

Gareth's Culture and Travel Blog

Sharing my cultural and travel experiences

The Oxford Culture Review

"I have nothing to say, and I am saying it" - John Cage

The Passacaglia Test

The provision and purview of classical music

Peter Hoesing

...a musicologist examining diverse artistic media in critical perspective

OBERTO

Oxford Brookes: Exploring Research Trends in Opera

Opera Teen

It is so important for people at a young age to be invited to embrace classical music and opera. -Luciano Pavarotti

%d bloggers like this: