Bellini Norma (DVD)
Sondra Radvanovsky, Joyce DiDonato, Joseph Calleja, Matthew Rose; Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Carlo Rizzi; dir. David McVicar (New York, 2017)
Erato DVD: 9029562976; Blu-ray: 9029562975 169 mins
This is the Met in broadcast mode with the American soprano Susanna Phillips our ‘guide’ to Bellini and Romani’s version of ancient Gaul. This is also the Met in a deeply conservative mood. Robert Jones designs an ancient forest full of apparently real trees and as the overture ends, director David McVicar trudges his blood-smeared warriors in from battle bearing their dead on shields. A good many seem to have lost their clothes in the fight, but that’s McVicar for you. Norma ascends a platform by the outsized oak tree to cut the sacred mistletoe and you half expect the audience to applaud the set.
When the high priestess’s supposedly modest dwelling rises from below the forest once again it’s that naturalism New York audiences appear to crave. A cavernous space shaped, we are told, by the roots of the sacred oak, but ‘dressed’ as if Norma and Adalgisa had spent an afternoon shopping in Pottery Barn: chic metal pots around the fire shelves, a clump of candles to light, and salt glazed ceramics tastefully arranged on a shelf. Moritz Junge’s costumes for the two priestesses complete the picture – off-the-shoulder Celtic chic. Look away if you can and remember that Norma is about singing. The American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky is the international Norma of choice at the moment and she sings ‘big’, lacking perhaps the legato that Bellini’s long-limbed melodies demand. But Joyce DiDonato, making her debut as Adalgisa, knows exactly how to handle this music and indeed the great duet ‘Mira, o Norma’ is thrilling and deeply moving. Bellini’s masterpiece becomes a musical essay on motherhood and women’s friendship. Matthew Rose is a serviceable Oroveso, but Joseph Calleja, hardly a natural bel canto tenor, seems distinctly uncomfortable as Pollione. In the pit Carlo Rizzi is, as ever, the safest pair of hands in this repertoire.