There have been some curious coincidences in recent years concerning opera programming, such as the year in which two theatres put on "La Traviata" in the same week. Now in the space of two weeks we´ve seen two Bellini "Normas". The first was a one-night benefit performance at the Coliseo, the second a regular subscription series of four evenings at the Avenida organised by Buenos Aires Lírica. The box office results for the benefit were splendid, a practically full Coliseo, which is pretty big; a good thing for the organisers, Santa María Reina del Cielo, a missionary and educational civil association. The amateur Regina Coeli choir, prepared by Ezequiel Fautario, isn´t accustomed to operatic performances; although they were well prepared, the voices are of unequal quality. Its size was adequate, 66-strong, but the sound that came out felt too raw. The ad-hoc Orchestra was very uneven in intonation and proficiency, even if some instrumentalists have an important trajectory, and not even Mario Perusso´s long experience could put things right in many passages, although speeds were well chosen and supportive of the singers. It was also rather small (41 players); the Coliseo possesses a large pit.
Two grave mistakes: the frequent mishandling of the supertitles´ projection, and the uncalled-for and unannounced interval before the last scene of the First Act and after the initial scene of the Second Act disconcerted the public and with good reason, provoking the return in troves of a good part of the audience when the music had already resumed.
Jorge Luis Podestá, a true fan of singers for decades, came late to opera production, but he had already done "Norma" in 2003. This time he had to make do with little money, and so there was no scenography, just a few low platforms, the collaboration of Mariela Daga with good traditional tunics and dresses and simple but effective lighting by Oscar Bonardi. As Podestá is a firm advocate of bel canto and respects it, what he did was conventional but right, with the final minute (Norma and Pollione a brought to the sacrificial pyre) particularly well handled.
This story of a Druid priestess in love with a Roman Proconsul, circa 50 B.C. in Gaul , elicited from Bellini his most beautiful melodies as well as most dramatic scenes. The total identification in voice and interpretation of Maria Callas with Norma made her a paradigm for succeeding ages and I can´t help hearing her in my inner mind each time I go to a "Norma". I believe Haydée Dabusti is certainly our best Norma and in her own terms provides a very enjoyable performance; her voice took a little time to settle down and in "Casta diva" wasn´t at her best, but in succeeding scenes she became more and more involved and firm, being in full command in her duets with Adalgisa. And I had a very agreeable surprise in the singing of María Florencia Machado, not only owner of a fine mezzo timbre but also of the requisite agility and ample register for this very difficult part.
Juan Carlos Vassallo sang Pollione sturdily with just enough metal in his timbre and satisfying highs; he is a limited actor and he gives very little nuance to his singing, however. Víctor Castells sang Oroveso rather woollily, Pablo Sánchez was an acceptable Flavio and Ana Laura Siniscalco a very subpar Clotilde.
I will be brief about the BAL´s "Norma" for it wasn´t a success. When in this opera the best thing is the orchestra something has gone seriously wrong. And in fact Javier Logioia Orbe´s conducting was right on, with good speeds (he avoides the longueurs one often hear in this opera), a homogeneos collective sound from a well-playing orchestra with only occasional horn fluffs and a sense of phrasing with the singers that is essential in Bellini. The chorus led by Juan Casasbellas was too small (only 26), perhaps because of the lack of space of the production imagined by Louis Désiré. It sang well in the First Act, faltered accompanying Oroveso in "Ah dal Tebro" and recovered in the final scene.
Both Florencia Fabris (Norma) and Adriana Mastrangelo (Adalgisa) are singers of valuable trajectories, but I felt them uncomfortable in this epitome of bel canto. First, both had too much vibrato; second, florid singing is more fluid though not ideal in Mastrangelo´s throat, but many passages of Norma´s writing were effortful and badly integrated in the vocal line of Fabris. They are sincere and communicative artists, but this is not the style in which they move well.
The import of Italian tenor Paolo Bartolucci (debut) proved erroneous; his initial scene was very poor, though he later sang with better intonation, but his line is quite uncertain and the timbre, uninteresting. He wasn´t helped by the ridiculous red costume and boots or by singing a long stretch with his hands behind his back. Christian Pellegrino as Oroveso sang with a mile-wide vibrato, Nazareth Aufe was correct as Flavio and Patricia Deleo colorless as Clotilde.
The producing team was made up of Désiré, Diego Méndez Casariego (stage designs), Mónica Toschi (costumes) and Rubén Daniel Conde (lighting). It was an unalloyed disaster and most of the time I couldn´t even recognize the opera. It´s hard to be so wrong but this team accomplished that feat.
For Buenos Aires Herald