Joan Sutherland in Toronto

It’s a pet peeve of mine that, alone among state funded TV broadcasters in the industrialised world, CBC doesn’t broadcast opera on TV. There are many other reasons why the CBC is a national embarrassment but this one rankles. That said, there have been a couple of CBC broadcasts over the years and they did make it to DVD. These include a 1981 Canadian Opera Company performance of Bellini’s Norma with Joan Sutherland. It’s a great big pile of steaming whale dreck. The production, by Lotfi Mansouri, looks more like it was done in 1881. The Gauls have helmets with horns on. Sutherland seems to be dressed as the Statue of Liberty and the tenor playing Pollione (Francisco Ortiz) looks like Stephen Fry as the Roman centurion in Black Adder Back and Forth. Add to that it’s pretty much park and bark as far as blocking goes.

Sutherland is on poor form. She has no lower register to speak of and she gets about as much drama out of the music as a doorpost. Whether her powers were in serious decline at this point or she was just having an off night I can’t tell but it’s pretty sad. Ortiz is dreadful. He’s often below the note and seems to be using every trick in the tenor playbook to approximate his music. Bonynge’s conducting is deadly dull. The only part of the music making worthy of note is Tatiana Troyanos as Adalgisa. She’s very good indeed.

Technically the DVD is at least as bad as the performance. It’s recorded in mono (mono, in 1981!) and the sound is muddy and badly balanced. At some points the chorus is completely inaudible. Of course, some of this maybe the lousy O’Keefe Centre acoustics but I think it’s mostly just bad engineering. The picture is very poor quality too. There are hard coded English subtitles. This is one to avoid.

“Thanks” to Lydia at Definitely the Opera for drawing this to my attention!

11 thoughts on “Joan Sutherland in Toronto

  1. The concept of a tenor who looks like Fry in that Blackadder special (and also Sutherland as the Statue of Liberty), not to mention the horned helmets, sound as if they’d make this into a ‘so bad it’s awesome’ production — but if the performance isn’t on, of course it wouldn’t be worth it. And it sounds like the performance is definitely not on. What a shame!

    • Everything about this thing is so “why I mostly stayed away from COC for the first fifteen years I lived in Toronto”. Second rate performance, ultra-traditional staging, hugely crappy acoustics…

      Thank goodness for Richard Bradshaw, the Four Seasons Centre and the current management!

  2. Nasty, bitter old queen writing this drivel. I suspect the “author” never saw Sutherland except for this video and doesn’t understand what it takes to sing Bellini’s Norma.
    The reviewer world is full of these bitter failures. It’s their bitchery that gets attention, not that they actually know anything. And most of them don’t.

  3. Pingback: Joan Sutherland on form | operaramblings

  4. I was shocked to read the review of this particular DVD and the comments. I have this DVD and thoroughly enjoyed watching Sutherland, Troyanos andOrtiz. The sets are sparse and the costuming is not very exciting to watch but Sutherland is great. It’s incredible that anyone can do this opera as the lead character Norma is on stage for almost the entire production. Yes Sutherland sings in the very upper registers and it is annoying at times but I guess you just have to accept that that’s the way she sings. Anyways I will view some other DVDs of Norma as this is the only DVD of this opera I have seen.

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