Norma, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2014Posted on 26 July 2014
Why is this glorious bel canto opera not performed more often? The reason is surely that one needs a terrific Norma, and Opera Holland Park produced one. Yvonne Howard was superb, and with Heather Shipp as Adalgisa these are performances not to be missed.
Their duet towards the end of Act I when Adalgisa comes to high priestess Norma wanting to give up her vows of chastity for the love of a man was a glorious example of the emotional tug that bel canto singing can convey in the hands of a master like Bellini. Her lover Pollione is the enemy captain as well as being Norma’s lover and father of her children, a fact that emerges at the end of their duet and when the insincere wretch appears the three of them bring the first act to a dramatic close. In the meantime we have heard a wonderful Casta Diva from Ms Howard, who coped superbly with the vocal difficulties of those long notes of sustained pitch and varying amplitude. Wonderful.
And Act II was even better, starting with the huge pathos in Norma’s Dormono entrambi where she intends — Medea like — to slay her sleeping children. One of the charms of this production was the lovely pair of children (Fiora Volpe and Davina Sotyanova), and after Norma breaks down, unable to do the deed, and Norma’s confidante Clotilde (Rosalind Coad) comes to them looking extremely worried, the duet between Norma and Aldagisa exhibited a tremendous vocal connection.
Vocally this was a thrilling evening supported by fine playing from the City of London Sinfonia under the baton of Peter Robinson. Huge power from the chorus, particularly following Norma’s battle cry Guerra! Guerra! and fully committed singing all round, with fine tone from Joseph Wolverton’s Pollione, strong vocal and stage presence from Keel Watson as the Druid leader Oroveso, and a remarkably heroic tone from Jung Soo Jun in the minor role of Flavio.
Director Olivia Fuchs’ staging of the action within a US military prison camp was inoffensive, Niki Turner’s Druid costumes were excellent and Colin Grenfell’s lighting superb. The use of blue light, particularly for sacred moments such as Casta Diva was very effective, but what really counted were the wonderful performances of Heather Shipp as Adalgisa and Yvonne Howard as Norma, whose magnificent costume and stage presence emphasised the sacred power she embodies. A vocally riveting Norma.
Performances continue on various dates until August 8 — for details click here.