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Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, July 2010

As Normas go, this one is pretty good, despite its flaws. It has a very fine heroine in Fiorenza Cedolins. She has the voice and style for the role, though her top has a wobble, and her coloratura is accurate rather than performed with ease and flexibility. Sonia Ganassi is better still, and blends perfectly with the soprano in their duets. Vincenzo La Scola phrases meltingly, with fine attention to dynamics, though early in the opera he discovers that the top of his voice is unreliable—and subsequently backs off from top notes whenever possible. Andrea Papi’s dark bass is roughly used, and serves him best in the lower end of his range. The higher up he goes, the more of a wide but regular vibrato became apparent, making shorter notes sound intonationally suspect. Giuliano Carella’s conducting, too, is good, solid and atmospheric if not the last word in either precision or poetry.

The sets left me with a mixed response. Anthony Baker employs huge dolmens, either craggy or polished, on an otherwise empty stage for many scenes, and these work well, as they can be moved around to form different sorts of enclosures suggesting Druidic circles or partially defined interiors. However, at other times he uses an underground temple made of what looks like square cardboard pillars with—well, the only word that comes to mind is childlike doodles, crayoned all over them. I admit to knowing next to nothing of Druidic runes, but what little I do know of runes in general is that they don’t come in hundreds of lumpy, non-standardized shapes that stand alone at all angles, rather than forming words.

I am also left at times confused by the proceedings. I understand why we’re shown Roman soldiers in red and blue lights standing on this temple, as on the earth: because these are the images that prey on the minds of the Druids, who in act II imagine them bending down to watch seemingly through the ground as weapons are removed from a sacred enclosure. A clever idea—but if that’s the case, then why do we have a scene in act I with actual Romans standing and singing above the temple, as well, in the same location? This confuses matters. Furthermore, what is the meaning of the huge green rectangular dolmen crossed by a bright red paint-splattered X in act II? Norma caresses the X, so are we to take it as a reference to her vengeance, with green for jealousy? But how is that possible, since she doesn’t even have the information that drives her to vengeance until considerably later in that scene?

For the rest, stage director Francisco Negrín handles the blocking of his cast well, though the acting as such is more a matter of facial histrionics from Cedolins and generalized reactions from the others, rather than detailed interaction based on the libretto. The costumes are the usual mix of generic Roman garb and anachronistic flowing linens for the Druids. The camerawork is exceptionally good, holding mostly to the middle distance, which gives us plenty of detail, while providing enough breadth to see groups of performers and entire sections of the stage. Sound is available in PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS 5.1, with subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, and Catalan. The picture format is 16:9.

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