Kevin Newbury’s production of Bellini’s Norma made it to Toronto via San Francisco, Barcelona and Chicago with Sondra Radvanovsky singing the title role (at least some of the time) in all four cities. It was recorded for DVD and Blu-ray at the Liceu in Barcelona in 2015. Watching the DVD didn’t change my opinion of the production. Here’s what I said about it on opening night in Toronto:
Kevin Newbury’s production is perhaps best described as serviceable. I have seen various rather desperate efforts made to draw deep meaning from it but I really don’t think there is any. That said, it looks pretty decent and is efficient. The single set allows seamless transitions between scenes which is a huge plus. So, what does it look like? It’s basically a sort of cross between a barn and a temple with a back wall that can raised or moved out of the way to expose the druids’ sacred forest. There’s also a sort of two level cart thing which characters ascend when they have something especially important to sing. Costumes were said to have been inspired by Game of Thrones; animal skins, leather, tattoos (which actually don’t really read except up very close), flowing robes. Norma herself appears to be styled, somewhat oddly, on a Klingon drag queen. The lighting is effective and there are some effective pyrotechnics at the end. All in all a pretty good frame for the story and the singing.
There did seem to be far fewer pyrotechnics in the Barcelona staging though (either that or the video direction pretty much ignores them).
As in Toronto the singing is the thing and Sondra aside it’s an entirely different cast. Gregory Kunde plays Pollione, Ekaterina Gubanova is Adalgisa, Raymond Aceto sings Oroveso and Clothilde and Flavio are taken by Ana Puche and Francisco Vas. Radvanovsky is superb. Her ability to spin out a line is amazing and her voice keeps its somewhat unusual but very beautiful woodwindy quality evenly through the registers. Kunde manages to pull off the bel canto heldentenor thing very well indeed. He’s suitably flexible and lyrical but with the necessary ringing heroic sound. Gubanova is another dream Adalgisa with a lovely, consistent voice that blends beautifully in the duets. Everybody else is more than adequate and the chorus is suitably full blooded. Rather like at the COC I found myself at times just closing my eyes and wallowing in the singing. Renato Palumbo conducts and doesn’t distract. I don’t really expect more than that in this music.
The disk technical quality, even on DVD, is very good. Both DTS surround and stereo tracks are clean and do justice to the voices. The picture is not bad either, even in the dark scenes of which there are several. I’m sure Blu-ray would bring out the details better. The biggest problem is the video direction of Jean-Pierre Loisil. It’s not awful but it is quirky and over concerned with close-ups, especially at the beginning and the end. That’s a shame because this production mostly looks at its most effective when the stage is seen as a whole. The only extras on the disks are a few trailers. The booklet has a short essay and a detailed track listing. Subtitle options are English, Italian, German, French, Spanish, Catalan, Korean and Japanese.
This is worth having as a record of Radvanovsky’s Norma and the rest of the singing is very good but otherwise it’s all a bit meh. I think overall, despite some technical limitations, I prefer the Gruberova recording from Munich.