SFO’s Plywood “Norma” Smolders

Janos Gereben reviews San Francisco Opera’s Norma,

All Photos by Terrence McCarthy

Bellini Masterpiece Features Catherine Naglestad as the Druid Diva


OCTOBER 10/26/05: Review by Janos Gereben

Unencumbered
by what was to come — a huge wood structure incongruously depicting
the sacred forest in Gaul and voices to be tested in this most
prominent of bel canto operas, the first five minutes of the new San Francisco Opera production of Bellini’s Norma were exciting, brilliant.

Before the closed curtain, Oleg Caetani conducted the overture — called sinfonia
in the score — in a fast, lively, bright way. The
performance was sincere, but with also with a bit irony — Italian
passion expressed and commented upon at the same time — and altogether
memorable. The SF Opera Orchestra was at its considerable best.

Then,
all too soon, the curtain opened, to Allen Moyer’s lumber pile, in
Heather Carson’s dramatic lighting (calling attention to itself
— a no-no), and director James Robinson had the Druid insurgents
eviscerate and hang up high what must have been one of the Roman
imperialists or perhaps a collaborator. So far so good — no overt
references to Iraq, leaving it that to a large demonstration outside
the War Memorial, taunting Rep. Nancy Pelosi for "always voting for the
war" (?) — but then came canto that wasn’t always bel.

Beginning
with the chorus, which went from mediocre to outright ragged before
Norma’s entrance, there were problems – not big ones, but you can’t
have a great Norma that’s "not so bad." Attila Jun’s dry and
uncommanding singing as Oroveso was less than thrilling. Enter Zoran
Todorovich as Pollione, singing with effort, displaying a thin voice,
straining at high notes… albeit singing with fine diction. Two Adler
Fellows — Sean Panikkar as Flavio and Kimwana Doner as Clotilde —
showed off voices and performances more impressive than Jun or
Todorovich.

When Catherine Naglestad’s long-awaited
Norma appeared, the initial impression was dramatically and vocally
disappointing. However much the high priestess might have sinned in
secret, a Norma who vamps — in dress, walk and body language — just won’t pass for a sacred Druid virgin (even if the single mother of two children).

Until
competent and pleasing duets later with Irina Mishura’s outstanding
Adalgisa, Naglestad was not all that impressive. The director placed
her upstage, singing into the wings, at the beginning of Casta Diva, so the great aria was virtually inaudible at first.

The
Norma-Adalgisa duet in Act 2 was better yet, the chorus came into focus
more, just in time to use all that lumber for a funeral pyre. If only
more of the performance caught fire like that.


CAST:
Norma: Catherine Naglestad
Adalgisa: Irina Mishura
Pollione: Zoran Todorovich
Oroveso: Attila Jun

PRODUCTION:
Conductor: Oleg Caetani /
Sara Jobin (11/10-21)
Director: James Robinson*
Set Designer: Allen Moyer
Costume Designer: Anna Oliver
Lighting Designer: Heather Carson
Chorus Director: Ian Robertson

* San Francisco Opera debut
Cast, programs and schedules are subject to change

Approximate Running Time: 3 hours
Sung in Italian with English Supertitles
This production of Norma was originally created for the Canadian Opera Company.

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