Bellini: Norma

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

ALBUM TITLE: Bellini: Norma
WORKS: Norma
PERFORMER: Cecilia Bartoli, Sumi Jo, John Osborn, Michele Pertusi, Liliana Nikiteanu; International Chamber Vocalists; Orchestre La Scintilla/Giovanni Antonini


Cecilia Bartoli’s new recording of Bellini’s masterpiece is founded on the notion that his original vocal casting was radically different to the now standard lineup. This is at least partially correct. Adalgisa is regularly sung by a meaty mezzo, whereas the score asks for a soprano: Giulia Grisi, who created the role, also created such soprano roles as Elvira in I puritani and Norina in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. Giuditta Pasta, the first Norma, seems to have been a soprano with an unusually strong lower range; but Bartoli is essentially a mezzo who here has to sing the higher notes while duetting with a soprano. The result is creditable and often expressive, but artistically compromised – the vehement guttural attack undermines the crucial lyric grandeur – while from a purely vocal point of view it sometimes sounds a struggle.

Sumi Jo has greater success with Adalgisa, her light, fluttery soprano nicely matching the innocence of Norma’s rival. John Osborn, gracefully though he sings much of the role of Pollione, frequently sounds outgunned; Domenico Donzelli, the role’s first exponent, developed into a tenore robusto.

This new edition of the score interpolates stylish decoration, while chorus and period-instrument orchestra are excellent.


George Hall