I rather like recordings from the Macerata Festival where the performances take place in the enormous amphitheatre of the Arena Sferisterio. Bellini’s Norma is a good choice for such as setting and the 2016 production directed by Luigi di Gangi and Ugo Giacomazzi makes good use of the space. It also uses string. The sets are stringy. The very scruffy Gauls wear shapeless tunics with lots of string over them. The slightly smarter Romans also wear string. And everybody plays with string. There are more strings than in the Princeton Physics Department. There’s lots of face paint too. The production also makes use of a spectacular multi-coloured lighting plot but, apart from the visuals, is pretty conventional and straightforward.
The recording of Bellini’s Norma made at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 2016 is about as good as video recordings of opera go. It has it all; a well thought through and well executed production concept, very fine musical values, great acting, judicious camera work and top notch sound and picture. It doesn’t get much better.
Bellini’s Norma is a tale of illicit love between two Gaulish priestesses (can women be called druids?) and a Roman tribune. In this 2006 production for the Bayerische Staatsoper director Jürgen Rose has set the piece in the present day in a vaguely Middle Eastern setting. Within that framework the story is told quite straightforwardly and there’s no attempt to project some kind of agenda. The designs are very striking. Blue figures a lot. Norma’s home is an underground bunker. When the Gauls arm for war they put on ski masks and supplement their spears with assault rifles. It all looks really good. The acting is also excellent and we get some real intensity in the Norma/Pollione/Adalgisa love triangle and in the tension between Norma and her father Oroveso. It works as drama.