Thursday, September 29, 2016
On Monday, the Met kicks off its 132nd season with a new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde by Mariusz Trelinski, with Sir Simon Rattle leading a premiere cast of Nina Stemme, Ekaterina Gubanova, Stuart Skelton, Evgeny Nikitin and René Pape (not pictured). Tristan has been the season-launching opera three times before now, but good luck finding someone to provide a firsthand account of the last time. Stemme and Skelton will follow in the footsteps of Flagstad and Melchior (1937), who followed Ternina and Van Dyck (1901), who followed Lehmann and Niemann (1887). Of these three illustrious pairings, that of Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior is most familiar to us listeners of the 21st century. While Stemme and Skelton will be singing their roles at the Met for the first time, the Scandinavian Connection headlined 67 Met Tristans between 1935 and 1941, both at 39th and Broadway and on tour. The 1937 opening night was the 26th of these. Artur Bodanzky‘s cast also included Kerstin Thorborg, Julius Huehn and Emanuel List. How “ordinary” was a Flagstad/Melchior Tristan in those days? Reviewing one Saturday matinee of the late 1930s with all five of the above singers and the same conductor, the Herald Tribune took a cautioning note: The frequenters of out foremost opera house are perhaps beginning to regard the accomplishments of Mme. Flagstad a bit too complacently, for while there was no want of enthusiasm in the reception accorded her, there were numerous vacant seats and the number of standees was considerably smaller that it has been in past seasons at Tristan performances in which she has participated. […] Such artistry is rare in any time, and in our day, when good singing–not to speak of great singing—is all too rarely encountered, it should not be too lightly appraised. Here are Flagstad, Melchior and Bodanzky in the last performance of the 1937-38 season. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=6J6iCfEokqw A review of the historical archive illuminates how the different regimes of different times had differing ideas about what an opening night should be. The incumbent general manager has favored new productions of familiar, popular works, and in one case the Met premiere of an opera many considered overdue (Anna Bolena, 2011). Only once has there been a gala, the 2008 Renée Fleming showcase. Those productions have covered the spectrum from triumphant (Madama Butterfly) to dismal (Tosca) to just “there” (…actually, all of the others), but they have brought to opening night some excitement that had ebbed away in the Crawford/Southern/Volpe years. In that era, it usually seemed as though the previous season were picking up where it had left off, with a business-as-usual Aïda, Bohème or Carmen slapped onto the stage in an existing production that had worked or had not worked, plus one big star. “But opera is about the singing!” you say. Yes, yes. In more distant times, opening night was often a time of important musical debuts. This is something of which we have not seen much in recent decades. In the Gelb era, there have been the slim pickings of Stephen Costello (2007) and Amanda Majeski (2014)… the former in a comprimario role, the latter as an emergency replacement. New faces to begin the season were few and far between in the 20 years prior to Gelb’s time too. José Cura had been highly touted in advance in 1999, but he was an anomaly. As you will see below, in the Met’s first century, many significant artists were initially heard on opening night. There were so many such examples that I had to leave many out of my survey in the interests of brevity and balance: Geraldine Farrar, Emmy Destinn, Tullio Serafin, Fritz Busch, Erna Berger, George London, Giulietta Simionato, Bonaldo Giaiotti, Florence Quivar, Kurt Moll. In first-night casting, at least, the most recent regimes have been in agreement, sticking with the tried and true. Here is just some of what you could have seen, and perhaps did see, on opening night through the years at the Met. 1890: The seven-year-old company dared to open the season with a work little known at the time and even less well known today. Franchetti’s Asrarel, a mystical mash-up of Meyerbeerian, Wagnerian and Italian influences, was said to have had some overseas success. An anonymous New York Times reviewer handled it cautiously: The opera was received with no small favor, but it will have to grow into deep public affection. It is not the kind of work to carry an audience by storm. There is too much thought in it. This brain food may have proved indigestible to New Yorkers of the Gilded Age; the work did not grow into deep public affection. After five performances, it was not heard again at the Met. Of the cast members, several of them debuting artists, only tenor Andreas Dippel lasted past the 1890-91 season. He proved valuable in a wide range of repertoire over the following 18 years. 1893: For its tenth anniversary, the Met returned to the opera with which it had all begun, Gounod’s Faust. The entire previous season had been wiped out by an August 1892 fire, allegedly caused by a workman’s casually discarded cigarette. Recorded the Times: There is scarcely a reminder of the old Metropolitan Opera House in the magnificent new building[,] a marvel of brightness in color and grace in all its outlines. The severe decorations of the auditorium, which was destroyed by the big fire, have given place to brighter ornamentation, and, while the seating capacity of the house has been materially increased, the comfort of its patrons has been steadily kept in view in the arrangement of the changes. Surely, all thought of ornamentation and outlines was put to the side when Emma Eames and brothers Jean and Edouard de Reszke got their Goethe on. 1903: “Not that he is the greatest tenor ever heard in New York,” the Sun hastened to assure its readers about a new singer who was no Jean de Reszke or Francesco Tamagno. “He pretends to be such a singer in his part as [Marcella] Sembrich is in hers.” Such remarks were typical within the press’s generally complimentary notices for Enrico Caruso. The 30-year-old Neapolitan, acclaimed elsewhere in the world, debuted as Rigoletto‘s Duke alongside Sembrich and Antonio Scotti. 1907: Cilea’s seemingly unkillable Adriana Lecouvreur got its first Met hearing, showcasing a star tenor and a soprano considered one of the world’s most beautiful women. “How poor a vehicle the opera is for the exhibition of Mr. Caruso’s extraordinary gifts and powers,” clucked the formidable Henry Krehbiel in the Herald Tribune. “Adriana is not for such as this; rather it is for such as Mme. [Lina] Cavalieri, who has neither beauty of voice nor excellence of song to recommend, but who can make pictures, and act as opera people act.” 1916: “Pearls of song by all-star anglers were never cast before a more brilliant assemblage […] The old Metropolitan put its best foot forward as it hasn’t done in years,” raved the Evening Sun‘s W. H. Chase at the company’s first complete performance of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles, starring Frieda Hempel, Caruso and Giuseppe De Luca. Despite this enthusiasm, the opera received only two more Met performances, sank to the depths for nearly a century, and resurfaced looking very different. 1921: Curiously, the American‘s Max Smith suggested that Verdi’s La traviata may have been too slight an offering for this occasion. [T]he work has none of the spectacular glories usually associated with the opening night. […] Traviata, as all of us know, affords no opportunity for big ensembles, for massed effects, for the combined assault of cumulative sonority and gorgeous pageantry upon eye and ear.” One suspects this gifted writer would never have foreseen Meyerbeer’s fall from fashion. Still, Smith found excitement in the debut of soprano Amelita Galli-Curci. [H]ow fascinating is Amelita’s impersonation of Violetta, already made familiar during her association with the visiting Chicago Opera Company! How imaginatively vivacious in the first act; how pathetic in the second; how tragic in the last. It was fitting, indeed, that [general manager] Giulio Gatti-Casazza should bring forward his latest “star” in Traviata. For surely no other role reveals her own peculiar powers, histrionic as well as vocal, to greater advantage; none permits her to disclose more affectingly the characteristic delicacy of her art, the essentially feminine charm of her persuasions. Beniamino Gigli and De Luca supplied the masculine charm. 1926: Another work not long for the Met’s repertory inaugurated the 43rd season, as a 34-year-old bass made his company debut in Spontini’s admired La vestale. “Ezio Pinza, a newcomer, orated the bass pronouncement of the Pontifex Maximus and gave promise of being a useful addition to the company. There is little else to be said. The audience was large, but the familiar excitement of an opening night was absent,” wrote W. J. Henderson in the Sun. Maestro Serafin’s cast included Rosa Ponselle, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi and De Luca. Vestale would receive only two more Met performances, but Pinza would settle in until 1948. 1938: As Smith had in 1920, the Herald Tribune’s Lawrence Gilman mused on what constituted appropriate opening-night fare: From a strictly realistic standpoint, it does not matter very much […] [T]he inaugural work could be almost any choice at all from the Metropolitan’s extensive repertoire, active or inactive. It might be Tristan or Mignon, Madama Butterfly or Dinorah–perhaps only Parsifal or In the Pasha’s Garden would not serve. On this occasion, it was Otello. Giovanni Martinelli and Lawrence Tibbett returned to roles in which they were building legends, and Verdi’s score was in the hands of one of its great conductors, Ettore Panizza. Debuting soprano Maria Caniglia would not remain with the company for long, but her Desdemona made a strong impression: [T]he Neapolitan soprano […] is a singing-actress of exceptional feeling and sincerity, a gracious and gentle personality, equipped with a sense of the theater and a voice which often serves her responsively as a vehicle of dramatic utterance and lyric speech. She was vocally ill at ease in the first two acts, but later she sang with greater freedom and security, and often with affecting beauty and communicative eloquence. 1950: The season and the eventful tenure of GM Rudolf Bing began with Verdi’s Don Carlo, featuring six notable debuts: sopranos Delia Rigal and Lucine Amara, mezzo Fedora Barbieri, bass Cesare Siepi, director Margaret Webster and designer Rolf Gérard. Jussi Björling, Robert Merrill and Jerome Hines completed the principal cast; Fritz Stiedry conducted. At this time, the opera itself could still be described as “Verdi’s gloomy and seldom-heard Don Carlo” (Max de Schauensee, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin). But Virgil Thomson was happy to see it back after a 27-year absence: [T]his ever-so-grand grand opera is perfectly suited to the space and paraphernalia possibilities of New York’s historic music theater. It is also a fine vehicle for musical display, and last night’s performance was not wanting in grandeurs from the auditory wing. He praised the sophisticated work of the director and designer. 1956: The heavily hyped Met debut of Maria Callas (Bellini’s Norma) was, like so much else about this singer, controversial. Bing, Callas herself and many attendees claimed she had not been at her best. The Saturday Review‘s oft-dyspeptic Irving Kolodin left a judicious assessment that stands the test of time, not only as regards this performance but Callas’s art: The kind of voice, basically, requires some consideration. It is what every great artist’s means of communication becomes: an extension of her own personality. That personality is dynamic, highly charged, tigerish, and utterly under discipline. So, too, the voice is dynamically dramatic, produced as though it might be torn from the singer’s insides, and presided over with an almost visible concern for every word and note she sings. Nothing is thoughtless, left to chance, or without total purpose. Factually, Miss Callas cannot afford to perform otherwise, for were she dependent on the pure physical beauty of the sound she produces she would be sung out of sight by many people presently inconspicuous.” Barbieri, Siepi and Mario del Monaco were this fabled Norma’s colleagues and competitors. 1966: The Met’s state-of-the-art Lincoln Center home flung open its doors for the world premiere of Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra with Leontyne Price and Justino Diaz. The story of that inauspicious beginning is a familiar one. Franco Zeffirelli‘s elaborate production was critically savaged, and the Christian Science Monitor adjudged the opera inferior to the composer’s Vanessa (“At times tedium was definitely on hand”). Reviews for the venue were considerably better. Inez Robb (under her nom de plume, Nancy Randolph), covering for the Daily News, beseeched: “New Yorkers at all levels have been talking, day and night, about quitting this city. It’s ‘so tired,’ ‘so sooty,’ ‘so traffic-choked,’ this ‘irritating island’ with its ‘horrid sights and sounds.’ Now, won’t these dear people please stay? There are new wonders here in New York and they’ve been wrought while the complainers were busy with pale martinis and dark moods.” 1970: What the New Yorker‘s Winthrop Sargeant found “an unusually sedate and refined” opening night may impress us as more special 46 years later: Verdi’s Ernani conducted by Thomas Schippers, starring Martina Arroyo, Carlo Bergonzi, Sherrill Milnes and debuting bass Ruggero Raimondi. Sargeant felt that baritone Milnes, already a local favorite, had won the evening, but he praised the new kid too: “[A] young Bolognese named Ruggero Raimondi […] sang with fine quality and style, making an impression that will entitle him to many a future role at the Metropolitan Opera. He is not a deep bass, but he is one with plenty of velvet and a commanding stage presence.” Indeed, Raimondi frequently returned, most recently in 2008. 1981: Andrew Porter found little to cheer in a Norma remembered as a lowlight of Renata Scotto‘s distinguished Met career. No one seemed very much interested in anyone else, and the drama dragged. If Miss Scotto’s technical execution was faulty, the others [Tatiana Troyanos, Plácido Domingo and Bonaldo Giaiotti] lacked delicacy, refinement—the individual touches, vocal and dramatic, by which imaginative singers bring Bellini’s opera to life. The approach of the conductor, James Levine, did not encourage them to finesse. He laid out foursquare metronomic rhythms. He was energetic and assured, […] but he showed almost no feeling for sensitive, flexible shaping of Bellini’s melodies. 1983: The Met marked 100 years of flush times and lean times, the forgettable and the unforgettable, with a work close to the heart of music director Levine: Berlioz’s epic Les Troyens. The large cast included Troyanos, Domingo and Jessye Norman, making her house debut as Cassandre (“She delivered her pronouncements with magnificent tone and searing authority, and while her figure is of the same Wagnerian proportions as her voice, she moved with as much grace as grandeur,” per the Daily News). The tenor had had second thoughts about his role’s tessitura and even had asked to be relieved of the assignment. Although his reviews in the main were good, four performances of Enée in this run would be the only ones of his career. 1986: In a decade that saw several innovative Rings around the world, the Met put its technical and monetary resources in the service of pictorial conservatism. The Times‘s Donal Henahan assessed the first completed entry, Die Walküre: Feasible, but on the whole so far from being satisfactory in both large and small matters that the success of the cycle may already be in jeopardy. Otto Schenk‘s staging is a schizoid affair, with naturalistic, 19th-century scenery bumping up against naturalistic acting in a 20th-century style. […] Günther Schneider-Siemssen‘s sets, which look as if they were copied from one of the historical dioramas in the Wagner museum at Bayreuth, are not individual in any way, but they please the eye and would serve well in a performance better directed and better sung. Levine’s premiere cast included Jeannine Altmeyer, Hildegard Behrens, Brigitte Fassbaender, Peter Hofmann and Simon Estes. 1994: General manager Joseph Volpe scored a coup when two of the famous Three Tenors agreed to share opening night in a pairing of Puccini’s Il tabarro (Domingo) and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (Luciano Pavarotti). Perhaps the bigger news was the 35th Met anniversary of Teresa Stratas. The elusive and mercurial Canadian performed adulterous double duty as Giorgetta and Nedda. Veteran mezzo Florence Quivar made much of relatively little, stealing a scene as Tabarro‘s Frugola. Levine conducted. 2006: New GM Peter Gelb‘s tenure began with a hit, a fresh take on Puccini’s Madama Butterfly by esteemed film director Anthony Minghella in collaboration with his wife, choreographer Carolyn Choa. “We are first-time opera makers; it’s not for us to revolutionize opera,” the director said at the time. “It’s for us to understand it and to bring to bear whatever it is that we can bring to the work.” Opera News‘s F. Paul Driscoll described the result as a clean-lined, luxuriously spare Butterfly that borrows liberally from the traditions of Asian theater. Minghella is not the first director to try this, but no other director has accomplished his unaffected fusion of East and West with such sumptuous flair—abetted here by the sleek settings of Michael Levine and the elegant costumes by Han Feng—or his highly individual musicality. Levine led Cristina Gallardo-Domas, Marcello Giordani, Maria Zifchak and Dwayne Croft. Sadly, this instant classic was both Minghella’s first opera production and his last. He died in 2008.
Sonya Yoncheva as Norma in Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper ‘Casta diva’ is an aria from Vincenzo Bellini ’s 1831 opera Norma . It takes place in Act I, shortly after the title character’s first entrance. Bellini originally wrote the role for his friend Giuditta Pasta and the part is considered one of the most challenging roles in the repertory – for a variety of reasons, although particularly the music. It requires a flexible voice that also has tremendous power over a wide range. ‘Casta diva’ is a prime example not only of bel canto (the generic term for a style of music popular in early 19th-century Italy, where high importance is placed on vocal beauty), but also of Bellini’s own distinctive style. Where does it take place in the opera? ‘Casta diva’ takes place in Act I scene 3. Before the aria, we have encountered Norma’s father Oroveso and his followers. They’re eager for war, but they have to wait for approval from Norma, who as priestess has the final say. We then meet Norma’s secret lover Pollione, an enemy of her people. We learn that he’s fallen out of love with Norma and wishes to abandon her and their two children. Then comes ‘Casta diva’. In the preceding recitative Norma argues with Oroveso about the need for war; in the aria itself she leads her people in a serene prayer for peace. This calm doesn’t last long, though – soon Pollione’s outrageous behaviour will lead Norma to give the signal for war. What do the words mean? Read our line-by-line translation of librettist Felice Romani ’s original Italian text, created in 2016 by Royal Opera House surtitler Kenneth Chalmers: Recitative: ‘Sediziose voci, voci di guerra’ Norma Sediziose voci, voci di guerra Avvi chi alzarsi attenta Presso all’ara del Dio? V’ha chi presume Dettar responsi alla veggente Norma, E di Roma affrettar il fato arcano? Ei non dipende, no, non dipende Da potere umano.Oroveso E fino a quando oppressi Ne vorrai tu? Contaminate assai Non fur le patrie selve E i templi aviti Dall’aquile latine? Omai di Brenno oziosa Non può starsi la spada.Chorus Si brandisca una volta! Norma E infranta cada. Infranta, sì, se alcun di voi snudarla Anzi tempo pretende. Ancor non sono della nostra vendetta i dì maturi. Delle sicambre scuri Sono i pili romani ancor più forti. Oroveso and Chorus E che t’annunzia il Dio? Parla! Quai sorti? Norma Io ne’ volumi arcani leggo del cielo, In pagine di morte Della superba Roma è scritto il nome. Ella un giorno morrà, Ma non per voi. Morrà pei vizi suoi, Qual consunta morrà. L’ora aspettate, l’ora fatal Che compia il gran decreto. Pace v’intimo E il sacro vischio io mieto. Norma Are there those who would call for rebellion and war at the altar of god? Would some put words into the mouth of the prophetess Norma and hasten Rome’s unknown fate? It does not depend on human might.Oroveso How long would you have us oppressed? Have our woods and the temples of our ancestors not been tainted enough by Roman symbols? The sword of Brennus cannot now lie idle.Chorus Raise it up! Norma And it will shatter and fall. Yes, shatter if any one of you tries to unsheathe it before time. The time of our revenge has yet to come. Roman spears are still more mighty than the axes of the Sicambri Oroveso and Chorus What has god told you? What is our fate? Norma I read the secrets in the stars. Proud Rome’s name is written on the page of death. One day she will die, but not through your doing. She will die eaten away by her own vices. Wait for the fateful hour when this will come to pass I counsel peace, and gather sacred mistletoe. Aria: ‘Casta diva’ Casta diva, che inargenti Queste sacre antiche piante, Al noi volgi il bel sembiante, Senza nube e senza vel!Tempra, o Diva, Tempra tu de’ cori ardenti, Tempra ancora lo zelo audace. Spargi in terra quella pace Che regnar tu fai nel ciel. Chaste goddess, you cast a silver light upon these age-old, sacred trees. Turn your lovely face to us unclouded and unveiled.O goddess, calm the fire that burns in these hearts Calm their fearless zeal. Spread across the earth that same peace that rules the heavens by your power. What makes the music so memorable? Verdi once praised Bellini’s ‘long, long, long melodies; melodies such as no one had written before him’. ‘Casta diva’, along with several other passages from Norma, exemplify this trait. In the aria Norma sings in incredibly long, smooth lines, embellished with the intricate ornamentation that is a distinctive feature of bel canto. The accompanying orchestration is initially quite light, with lilting strings and a flute obbligato in counterpoint to Norma’s voice. Bellini gradually thickens the orchestral sound and adds in a sotto voce chorus, to build the aria in a long crescendo that is a superb intensification of this ardent prayer for peace. Take a look at the full score of ‘Casta diva’ (from p.115 for the recitative, from p.123 for the aria), from IMSLP . Norma’s other musical highlights Norma is one of Bellini’s greatest works and the piece as a whole makes for thrilling drama. The love triangle of Norma, Pollione and Norma’s rival Adalgisa requires three exceptional singers, and Bellini draws on their skills to the full in the intense trio ‘Oh! di qual sei tu vittima’ that ends Act I (an innovation of Bellini’s, replacing the more usual chorus number). Norma and Adalgisa share two wonderful duets ‘Sola, furtiva, al tempio’ and ‘Si, fino all’ore estreme’, their voices entwining in rapturous beauty, while the fiery Norma/Pollione duet ‘In mia man alfin tu sei’ is irresistible in quite a different way. The war-hungry chorus sing a violent hymn in ‘Guerra, guerra! Le galliche selve’, while the long Act II finale ‘Qual cor tradisti’ brings the opera to its overwhelming climax. Classic recordings Maria Callas is Norma’s most famous exponent and made it a signature role. She made numerous recordings but musicologist Roger Parker for Radio 3 selected her recording with Tullio Serafin for La Scala, Milan , as his favourite. Montserrat Caballé is probably the only other 20th-century singer really to challenge Callas’s dominance, but recordings by Joan Sutherland , Shirley Verrett , Beverly Sills , Renata Scotto and Anita Cerquetti also have their merits (and I've probably missed out somebody’s favourite). More recently, Cecilia Bartoli has made the role her own, particularly in an acclaimed recording with Giovanni Antonini and the period-instrument band Orchestra La Scintilla. More to discover If you’ve gobbled up ‘Casta diva’ then other Bellini works will be worth a look, particularly I puritani and I Capuleti e i Montecchi . Other bel canto works that probably influenced Bellini include Spontini ’s La vestale and Donizetti ’s Anna Bolena . The influence of Norma itself stretched far and can be seen in many of Verdi’s operas – difficult to pick just one but you could choose Ernani , Luisa Miller , Stiffelio and the trio of Rigoletto , La traviata and Il trovatore . Even the notoriously picky Wagner was a Norma fan, and that influence can be seen particularly in the early Das Liebesverbot . Into the 20th century ‘Casta diva’ is strikingly quoted in Hans Krása ’s Verlobung im Traum – a superb but sadly overlooked work now available in recording . Norma runs 12 September–8 October 2016. Tickets are still available, and every Friday until Friday 7 October further tickets will be made available through Friday Rush . The production is a co-production with Opéra national de Paris and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE and The Tsukanov Family Foundation.
The Paul Hamlyn Hall Champagne Bar in the Royal Opera House © Royal Opera House Restaurants Welcome to the new Season which has truly opened with a bang. Bellini ’s Norma has not been seen at the Royal Opera House for a very long time and whenever performances of this opera at Covent Garden are mentioned, it is usually in the context of Maria Callas or Joan Sutherland's iconic performances of the role. This week saw Sonya Yoncheva take on the mantle, giving a stunning opening night performance which was very much her own. If you've seen the production, do add your reaction to our round-up of press and audience opinions . If you aren't able to attend a performance of Norma at Covent Garden, I would strongly recommend seeing it live in cinemas around the world on 26 September. We also recently live-streamed an Insight event with Antonio Pappano exploring Bellini's score, which is now available to watch on-demand via the Royal Opera House YouTube channel . Following the return of our much-loved production of Il barbiere di Siviglia starring Javier Camarena and Daniela Mack on Tuesday (which opened to stellar reviews from audiences and critics alike ), we soon look forward to the premiere of Jan Philipp Gloger 's new production of Così fan tutte . One of the great pleasures of working at the Royal Opera House is listening to the stage tannoy, which relays the sound of performances and rehearsals from the auditorium around the building. We've thoroughly enjoyed listening to the production's exciting young cast preparing for opening night and I can't wait to experience the full production. For a first glimpse of the production, we'll be live-streaming an Insight event via YouTube on 15 September . Do also keep an eye on our website, which will soon feature an interview with Semyon Bychkov , as well as rehearsal photography. Preparations for the opening of The Royal Ballet's Season are also underway, with less than two weeks until the first performance of Frederick Ashton 's charming La Fille mal gardée . The upcoming run features some very exciting casts, featuring both debuts and Company A-listers alike. I'd expect many of our ballet audience will be coming back throughout the run to experience the various interpretations offered by the many casts on show. In the ballet rehearsal studios high above the stage, Wayne McGregor has been busy developing his new (as-yet untitled) work , set to a score by influential minimalist composer Steve Reich . As many of you will be aware, the 2016/17 Season marks Wayne's tenth year working with the Company. He has truly pushed the boundaries of what a classical ballet company can be in this time, and we look forward to celebrating his association with the Company both during his upcoming mixed programme in November, and with the revival of the Olivier Award -winning Woolf Works later in the Season. I would like to thank everyone who joined, renewed or upgraded their membership in the last few months. Your support is greatly appreciated. Please note that The Royal Opera House Magazine for the Spring 2017 has now gone to print, and will be posted to you in the first week of October.
Sonya Yoncheva in Àlex Ollé's Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper One space-hopper, two sets of Beats by Dre and a LOT of crucifixes #ROHNorma pic.twitter.com/OQezWXtjbF — Alice Jones (@alicevjones) September 12, 2016 Brave attempt for the principals' role debut. They did not disappoint in showcasing their voice and techniques beautifully.#ROHnorma — Wisdom Hill (@Scarlet2046) September 12, 2016 I suppose that just one opera staged as the composer intended would be too much to ask for? Just one? #rohnorma #rohlucia #rohlescaut — Charles Tansley (@SquareAlbert) September 12, 2016 Set in different time/place/religion but emotions are all there and it works, well, rocks actually. #ROHnorma — Yosh M (@yoshkosh10) September 12, 2016 Production photo of Àlex Ollé's Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper Clever, inspired & visually striking ROHnorma production by Àlex Ollé & team. Didn't sugar the pill by setting it in a cozy mythical past. — David Cloke (@DavidCloke) September 12, 2016 Newsflash @sonyayoncheva does not sound like Maria Callas and surely never meant to.That being said she is fabulous in the lead of #ROHnorma — Martin L. (@bkkml01) September 12, 2016 Really enjoyed #ROHnorma despite being a little distracted by Watership Down on tv. But great stuff. Congrats to all! — Chrissie Bates (@ChrissieBates_) September 12, 2016 Visually stunning, beautiful singing from @sonyayoncheva but overall impact short of potential - let's give it time #ROHnorma — adm (@alandmclean) September 13, 2016 Sonya Yoncheva in Àlex Ollé's Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper Less convinced by this production than by the Caurier/Leiser, but #ROHnorma is visually striking, and who doesn't love a space hopper — Jamie Henderson (@jsdhenderson) September 12, 2016 Basic idea of converting druids to Catholics also makes lot of the libretto nonsensical. Will be an insuperable problem for some...#ROHnorma — Ed Beveridge (@dredbeveridge) September 12, 2016 @RoyalOperaHouse amazing, I'm sure #ROHnorma will be quoted as a classic for generations to come — Dave Thornton (@thornton_dt) September 12, 2016 #ROHnorma can't wait to see this again. Got a return for 4 October! Amazing luck. Totally adore this production. Beautiful and brilliant ☺ — Mark Richards (@MarkRic85498153) September 12, 2016 Press reviews: Bachtrack ★★★★ Evening Standard ★★★★ The Arts Desk ★★★ Guardian ★★★ The Stage ★★★ iNews ★★★ What did you think of Norma? Let us know via the comments below. Norma runs until 8 October 2016. A limited number of tickets are still available . The production will be relayed live to cinemas on 26 September 2016. Find your nearest cinema and sign up to our mailing list .
The story begins… The priestess Norma has had an illicit affair with Pollione, an officer in the forces occupying her land, and has had two children by him. Pollione has now tired of Norma and taken up with the younger priestess Adalgisa. Meanwhile, Norma’s people cry out for rebellion against the occupying forces. Will Norma take revenge on Pollione, and will her people discover her secret? A clever composite Norma is based on the verse tragedy of the same name by the French poet Alexandre Soumet . Bellini ’s librettist Romani also referred to a range of other sources, including Chateaubriand ’s novel Les Martyrs, Jouy ’s libretto for Spontini ’s opera La Vestale, and his own librettos for two other operas dealing with infanticide and ancient religions: Medea in Corinto and La sacerdotessa d’Irminsul. Bellini played a key role in the construction of the libretto for Norma and was instrumental in devising the opera’s dramatic and romantic final scene, entirely his and Romani’s invention. Long, long melodies Bellini’s gift for writing ‘long, long melodies’ (as described by Verdi ) is finely expressed in Norma, particularly in the heroine’s Act I aria ‘Casta diva’, one of the most famous of soprano arias. The opera also contains some of Bellini’s most emotionally potent duets, including the Act II duets ‘Mira, o Norma’ for Norma and Adalgisa and ‘In mia man alfin tu sei’ for Norma and Pollione. An opera conceived for star singers The cast of Norma at its premiere in Milan in December 1831 included two of the greatest sopranos of Bellini’s day – Giuditta Pasta as Norma and Giulia Grisi as Adalgisa. Subsequently, Norma has been a defining role for many distinguished sopranos, including Lilli Lehmann , Rosa Ponselle , Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas , who made a sensational Covent Garden debut as Norma in 1952. A contemporary heroine Àlex Ollé sets Norma’s story in a contemporary society in which religion and political power have become the same thing. Norma is trapped between her personal desires and the constraints and conventions of her society, and forced to choose between being true to herself or defending her religion and complying with its social demands. Her eventual actions can be seen as a defence of the individual’s freedom, and a denouncement of intolerance. Norma runs 12 September–8 October 2016. Tickets are still available, and every Friday from Friday 9 September to Friday 7 October inclusive further tickets will be made available through Friday Rush . The production is a co-production with Opéra national de Paris and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE and The Tsukanov Family Foundation.
With its chilling nods to druidic practices, Islamic State and hardline Catholicism, La Fura dels Baus’s new production of Bellini’s Norma packs a political punch – but how will it fare with the purists?Bellini operas are like buses. Six months after English National Opera unveiled its first ever production of the composer’s masterpiece Norma, over at Covent Garden, the same work is about to appear for the first time in nearly 30 years. A couple of weeks ago, at the Edinburgh festival, another version was performed. The production starred Cecilia Bartoli, who, despite being incontrovertibly a mezzo, triumphed in one of the toughest soprano roles. In the world of opera, 2016 will be remembered as the year the druidic diva returned.Of these new Normas, the Royal Opera’s reimagining is perhaps the most intriguing. Directed by the renegade Catalan collective La Fura dels Baus, it relocates Bellini’s Roman-occupied Gaul brusquely to the present: druidic robes are replaced by the uniforms of hard-right Christian groups; gloomy temples are abandoned in favour of sleek modern apartments. Outside the opera world, the company, founded in 1979, is still best known for the opening ceremony of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, an awe-inspiring if perplexing spectacle in which 2,000 blue-cape-wearing volunteers impersonated the Mediterranean sea. At Covent Garden, one wonders if the shade of Maria Callas – who made her debut as Norma here in the early 1950s, where it remained her favourite role – knows what she is in for. Related: Norma/ACO at Edinburgh festival review – Cecilia Bartoli set the night ablaze Continue reading...
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