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Frank Behrens
Art Times, June 2011

It is good to have a rarely seen opera on DVD. The production of Bellini’s “Norma” on the ArtHaus Musik label comes from a 2001 performance at the Teatro Regio of Parma with Fabio Biondi conducting his Europa Galante Orchestra and Verdi Festival Chorus.

Note: This very same video originally appeared on the TDK label several years ago.

While June Anderson is quite good in the title role, the production as a whole is rather pedestrian. Granted it is difficult to get life into some Bel Canto operas in which the singing is the essence of the whole, while plot and characterization take second place; but here we have the old style in which the chorus is glued to the spot for long stretches as the soloists vocalize toward the audience.

Ms. Anderson is not helped in her dramatic scenes with her Adalgisa (Daniela Barcelona), who barely reacts to what is going on in any but a generalized way. She gets equally little support from the tenor Shin Young Hoon as Pollione, who looks quite uncomfortable on stage and just a little disappointed in not getting more applause during the final curtain call. His voice is good but not exceptional.

Bellini tried very hard to make his characters believable, but he lived in an age when the singers ruled the roast and could demand extra arias and stage business that had nothing to do with the plots .

I would not put this set in my top choices for videos of this work, but it is an honest production—no modern dress or other gimmicks—and much of the music is its own reward in “Norma.”

Each of the two acts has its own disc, the picture ratio is 4:3 (full screen), the running time is 163 minutes, and the subtitles are in six languages (two more than the older TDK set). There is no bonus material. I must compliment the producers of the DVD for the special care taken with the subtitles, which not only show every repeat but even split the words during ensembles to indicate who is singing what. Very thoughtful and a good example for other companies to follow.

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