Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Someone didn't fully explain to Franco Farina the rules of the Gong Show, it would seem. Oh, that's in the score? Never mind then.

I can't shake the irritation I experienced, reading one discussion of Norma where it was suggested that the opera be shelved for twenty (was it forty?) years until someone worthy of, oh, what was the rhetoric, "the mantel of the great priestess" no doubt, should burst upon the scene. I don't remember, but I'm guessing this was in reference to the rumored Fleming/Wilson Norma. Actually for what it's worth, I think a Robert Wilson Norma might be just the thing. Just as Lohengrin is the better for taking singers' instincts about what to do during static moments out of the picture (well, and directors' frequent inability to help them), Norma might really lose some of the awkwardness it's frequently bestowed with if Waco Bob had a shot at it. Robert Wilson: for operas that are marginally viable in a non-concert setting. I dunno, I'd show up.

But we hear Fleming has sensibly dropped the project, and it was hard not to think about this and approve last night. While I do think the difficulty of filling Norma's apron, er shoes--sorry, Norma is such an archetypally waitressy name, I sometimes forget what the opera's about--is slobbered upon rather too much, it is a big sing. Fleming would be terrific in The Aria, if recent habits have any permanency, and then she'd be lost. Someone more fixated on fach than I might be tempted to think of Fleming as Adalgisa, but hell hasn't frozen over, last I checked, so again never mind.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the role is being sung by Hasmik Papian, and not badly either. Thank god nobody locked that forty-year safe. Not to say she was at all moments electrifying. Here and there the voice goes all squishy, seriously I can't think of a better word for it. And the top is a sometime thing, potent when the approach is felicitous; short or flat when it ain't. But she's not what I recalled from Aida in the 90's, a soft and wholly unmemorable presence. Her phrasing is, while not riveting, attentive and regal, and in the last scene of the opera, she found some inner resources of tragedy and shared them with us.

Oh, Dolora Zajick. How long has it been now for you and me? I'd say about ten years. What a long strange trip its been, huh pal? First there was Aida, and I really think at that point I'd never heard a bigger voice. Then there was Marfa in Khovanschina, we still laugh about that one, right? Oh and then there was the time I got super cranky because I went to a dress rehearsal for Cavalleria and you marked a lot, and your cover sang the aria, because yes, a rehearsal is a rehearsal, but what can I say? I'm a prick when I'm disappointed. Last time I heard you, you were ripping it up as the annoyingly pious mom in An American Tragedy and I think that's how, twenty years from now, forcibly regaling the young 'uns with stories of the old days, I'd like to remember you.

Adalgisa is an ok fit. Like Papian, Zajick has a good florid technique, which I guess is why everyone constantly thinks of her as slightly edgy casting for Macbeth. There are a couple of little opportunities to belt. From a dramatic standpoint, it's kind of a mistake, though, and all the soft singing brings out the more generic side of her formidable instrument. Know what, I do think she's oddly used at the Met. Ideas I've heard tossed around by the geekerati include Die Amme, which would be ever so much more gratifying than Adalgisa. Or, again, Macbeth, though the potential complexity of the character would be missed.

The singing of Eduardo Valdes was a welcome relief.

Ok, I'm not going to let it go at that. Farina sang well for about twenty measures of the opera, when he was singing softly. And the rest of the time, well, you pretty much know how I feel. No need to harp on it. But the thing is, am I on crack or did he take several low variants in his first act aria that aren't there? That pissed me off as much as the monochrome bawling. I covered my eyes, because it seemed slightly less rude than covering my ears.

Julianna di Giacomo, who made such a nice showing at Il Podlatore, was certainly a bit of luxury as Clotilde. Vitalij Kowaljow, who I somehow forgot about until I was editing this, for my money made the finest vocal showing of all.

Next up: was going to be another Vanessa, but for a scheduling snafu. I'd get up and look at the ticket pile but the cat is having none of that idea.


Willym said...

Here I go again. I hate to admit it but I’ve never been fond of Bellini and could never get too worked up about Norma. I only saw it live once and it was also the only time I understood what all the brouhaha was about. It was the legendary Caballé Orange performance with Vickers and Veasey. A Mistral had been blowing all day and showed no signs of letting up. They delayed the performance for an hour hoping things would improve. Finally - scores clothes pined to the music stands so they wouldn't blow away - the performance started. They say that the Mistral puts tension and electricity into the air and it certainly did that night. Almost 40 (?) years later I can still remember details of that performance. I believe Caballé once said it was the best thing she ever did in her life and I can believe it. Anyone who ever said she couldn't act should have seen her that night - she was Norma - vocally and dramatically. Vickers matched her – his was not the ideal voice for Bellini but there was no bellowing or bleating there. Veasey – unknown in North America but an incredible Octavian, Dido and Charlotte – was a worthy partner in the great duets.

Someone gave me the DVD as a birthday present and I thought perhaps this was one of those occasions when time had made the moment more glorious than it was. I put it on thinking that I would be disappointed - that it would not be as wonderful as I remembered. Oh foolish man - should have trusted my memories. It was a electrifying as I remember it. Again I understood why Norma can engendered so much passion in its hearers.

Unknown said...

It's interesting to me that the bloggers are all giving Papian generally good reviews while everyone else in the listserv is in an uproar about how bad it was. I think it's much a function of positioning. Where do you sit, Maury? Are you all in one box in the side balcony, hearing the same aggregated sound, and then comparing notes during intermission? just wondering.

Maury D'annato said...

Willym, yay, thanks for that. I've seen bits on vid, of course, but it's exciting to hear a personal account as well.

m.: yes, we all sit in one box. We are very small. It's a little known fact that bloggers are all smurfs.

Alex said...

Despite the reputation, I think bloggers' vitriol generally pales in comparison with listserv participants'.

Frankly, I had been so frightened into thinking it would be an abomination I would have supported anyone who didn't make me squirm. But instead we got a very assured account that both satisfied the formidable requirements of the piece and the role and included moments of real beauty. So fanatics aren't going to be naming their first-borns/cats "Hasmik" in 25 years. Whatever.

Unknown said...

I agree with Alex, not to mention that there's something about bel canto that really brings out the claws.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I am somewhat dyslexic, and I have been calling her Hamsik all week. My fear was that she would sound like my loose translation of her dyslexified name - a "ham sick" or an ill pig squealing.

Having never heard a Norma live, and having heard what a nightmare many people's experiences have been with bad Normas past, I confess that I was not only relieved but also overjoyed with how wonderful Hasmik and Dolora sounded. I can only echo Madame Sieglinde's gorgeous discussion of last night's performance in her opera/baseball blog.

I had warned my friend about how bad Farina would be, and I had to eat my words. While he cannot act very well, and while he seems to have sung an alternate version of some arias (i.e. omitted some high notes), I thought he improved as the evening progressed. (I heard him in Tosca some time ago, and I wanted to go backstage in the first act and tell Scarpia where to find him and put an end to the whole ordeal within a few minutes.)

Re. seat location, I sat with my friend Charlotte in her seats in the 4th box from the stage on the Grand Tier level. Close enough to watch the orchestra (who seemed to be having quite a bit of fun with Maestro Benini), but far enough away to hear the sound resonate (and far enough away to need binoculars to see detailed facial expressions and errors in wig placement.)

As a novice Norma-goer, I could not have been more pleased. I have been reading a number of posts on Opera-L and other reviews, and I am both excited and somewhat hesitant about a future, where after hearing a number of Normas, I might find a performance like yesterday's, which I found to be thrilling and adrenaline-pumping, to be considered more flawed than fabulous.


Paul said...

Papian did a fine job here in Denver last year as Norma, as I noted in my blog review. But other than a stint as Aida (at the Met?), I'm not acquainted with any of her other roles -- and I'm feeling too lazy today to look them up.

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