Bellini for the COC: the passion of Norma on stage
by Sebastiano Bazzichetto
TORONTO - For a handful of nights, Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini will be casting his spell on Toronto and opera-goers with his enthralling Norma. Launched on October 6, last Saturday curtains at the Four Seasons Centre revealed the grounds of a Druid village and its sacred woods in the Gauls.
The medievalesque costumes take the audience to another world, an isolated community that might live in the universe of an alien society, of myth or a fairy tale due to the opera’s universal nature, as costume designer Jessica Johan tells us during our interview. She wanted to augment that sense of a unified community, and the cultural structure that lies behind.
Through the fabric palette, hair style, and tattoos, she homogenizes the group (sometimes some 90 people on stage, main characters and the chorus), so as to isolate Norma’s community from the invading Romans, here represented by Pollione and Flavio. The set design is impressive, drawing inspiration from grand-scale hardware of castles and fortresses, with a monumental wooden gate that opens to reveal the sacred woods.
To the Italian audience’s ears, Norma’s famous aria “Casta diva” from Bellini’s masterpiece is undoubtedly a very renowned tune. Great soprano of the caliber of Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland made this aria one of their strong suits. In 1998, pop singer Franco Battiato composed a song entitled “Casta diva” so as to pay homage to the most divine of the divas, namely Callas. In recent times, even a popular French couturier released a commercial to launch “his factory” and his new fragrance, using Norma’s aria as background music, interspersed with rock-like beats. And speaking of that aria, Sondra Radvanovsky (Norma) made the audience tremble last Saturday.
The purest and most endearing Belcanto tradition triumphed in duets and trios: “Ah! di qual sei tu vittima” (Norma, Adalgisa and Pollione, act 1), and “Deh! con te, con te li prendi” (Norma and Adalgisa, act 2). Isabel Leonard (Adalgisa) was just impeccable in her natural and effortless singing, paired with the exquisite well-rounded voice (and flawless Italian diction) of Russell Thomas, who sang the role of Pollione. The Coc chorus, directed by great master Sandra Horst, was a tremendous vocal support.
As the story comes to an end, Norma forgives Pollione, and he, moved by her nobility, joins her on the (real) burning pyre in her tragic destiny. In other words, the warmth, grace and technique of the singers’ voices is just one of the many reasons why the public should go, sit and be carried away by this production.
On stage until November 5. More info at coc.ca.
(Tuesday 18 October 2016)