Kevin Newbury’s production of Bellini’s Norma at the COC (co-pro with San Francisco, Chicago and the Liceu) is perhaps best described as serviceable. I have seen various rather desperate efforts made to draw deep meaning from it but I really don’t think there is any. That said, it looks pretty decent and is efficient. The single set allows seamless transitions between scenes which is a huge plus. So, what does it look like? It’s basically a sort of cross between a barn and a temple with a back wall that can raised or moved out of the way to expose the druids’ sacred forest. There’s also a sort of two level cart thing which characters ascend when they have something especially important to sing. Costumes were said to have been inspired by Game of Thrones; animal skins, leather, tattoos (which actually don’t really read except up very close), flowing robes. Norma herself appears to be styled, somewhat oddly, on a Klingon drag queen. The lighting is effective and there are some effective pyrotechnics at the end. All in all a pretty good frame for the story and the singing.
And the singing is what you go for. I can remember very few COC shows where the singing was this good. Sondra Radvanovsky, in the title role, is stunning. Her ability to spin out long legato lines at anything from pp to f with elegance and style is remarkable. I also just love the very distinctive colours of her voice (not everyone’s view I know but most definitely mine). A Norma on top of her game is a rare thing and she is very much it. Isabel Leonard’s Adalgisa is just as good. The timbre, of course, is darker and there’s maybe a bit less carry but it’s equally beautiful. Both of them can act too and the chemistry between them is impressive. Then there’s the Pollione of Russell Thomas. I had mixed feelings about him after his Don José last season but any doubts were quickly dispelled here. He sang with truly heroic tone and power. Definitely one for fans of ringing Italianate high notes. He also managed to make something of the character which is some achievement. Pollione is a scarcely credible character and to make him seem fully human and interesting is not easy.
The rest of the cast was also more than adequate. Dimitry Ivashchenko is a true bass and made a solid and imposing Oroveso. Charles Sy, as Pollione’s sidekick Flavio, was quite impressive too. Singing alongside a tenor of Thomas’ sheer power is a challenge and he sounded fine. Aviva Fortunata rounded things out with a solid cameo as Clotilde. The chorus has a lot to do in this piece and they looked and sounded great. Stephen Lord conducted. He seems to be the COC’s “go to” for this kind of piece and one can see why. he’s efficient and doesn’t get in the way of the singers. All in all, musically a most satisfying evening.
Sondra is singing two more performances on Tuesday and Friday after which Elza van den Heever, a rather different singer, takes over for the balance of the run which continues at the Four Seasons Centre until November 5th.
First photo is by Chris Hutcheson, the remaining three by Michael Cooper.