Norma at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées

Many people go to bel canto opera for what its name indicates, beautiful singing. Yet, without dramatic impulse, even the most accomplished and virtuoso vocalisation can leave one dissatisfied. The large audience attending the new production of Norma at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées loudly acclaimed the  rendering of the famous aria Casta Diva, but what they experienced throughout the evening was the dramatic impact of Bellini’s music taken as a whole: the tension created by the lingering phrases of recitative; the self-doubts emerging when the priestess heroine shifts from a swooping fortissimo to an intricate pianissimo; the realisation of a common plight as the voices of two female rivals rise and fall in opposition but then harmonically unite. All of this came out in the wonderfully sensitive interpretation offered by conductor Riccardo Frizza and the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris. Nor could one have had better vocal characterisation and intensity of emotional engagement than that offered by Maria Agresta in the title role and Sonia Ganassi as Adalgisa. Marco Berti’s tenor had its off moments but his portrayal of a callous, vacillating Pollione convinced.

Eight out of ten to Stéphane Braunschweig for his direction and decors. Using the limited stage space effectively he succeeded, through colour, lighting and movement, in contrasting Norma’s public domain, her authoritative declamations as priestess, with her private emotional being as lover and mother. The unnecessary intrusions of a large conjugal bed, and the rather forced presence of the two children, were minor blemishes on what was a highly effective presentation of an operatic masterpiece.