DESKTOP
TABLET (max. 1024px)
MOBILE (max. 640px)
Return to Top
Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Sondra Radvanovsky Triumphant As COC Norma

By Joseph So on October 8, 2016

Canadian Opera Company production of Norma, 2016, (Photo: Michael Cooper)
Canadian Opera Company | Bellini’s Norma, 2016, (Photo: Michael Cooper)

The Canadian Opera Company: Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma. Directed by Kevin Newbury. Conductor Stephen Lord. At the Four Seasons Centre. Runs until Nov. 5.

The most highly anticipated event of the Canadian Opera Company this fall is the production of Norma that opens the season.  This opera was last staged by the COC back in the spring of 2006, in the Company’s last season at the Hummingbird Centre, starring American soprano June Anderson. The Bellini masterpiece is a bel canto gem that requires great voices to do it justice. While it was good in 2006, the COC has fielded a truly splendid cast this time around, led by soprano Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role (in the first four performances.)  I’ll stick my neck out and call her the definitive Norma of our time, pace several other excellent singers with this role in their repertoire. Since taking on this taxing role in Oviedo in 2011, Radvanovsky has sung it at the Met, San Francisco, Barcelona, and Munich, all to uniform praise.  It’s high time that the American-born Sondra Radvanovsky, who resides just outside the GTA and a newly minted Canadian citizen, gets to sing one of her most celebrated roles at home.

This production of Norma is a COC co-production with three other opera companies — San Francisco, Barcelona, and Chicago. Real Bellini enthusiasts, yours truly included, probably have already watched the commercial DVD filmed last year at the Gran Teatre del Liceu. But nothing beats the live experience in the opera house. For me, the appeal of Norma is the sublime vocal writing, with Bellini at his most inspired. The story, despite its inherent grandeur of goddesses and deities, is fundamentally a human love story, inhabited by people of flesh and blood. The role of Norma is incredibly challenging, a veritable Mount Everest of spinto-dramatic soprano roles, on par with Isolde, Brunnhilde and Aida.

It would not be an exaggeration to say the opening night audience witnessed a performance for the ages. Radvanovsky was in magnificent form. Right from the beginning, with the recitative before the beginning of “Casta diva”, the soprano offered up the most astonishing high pianissimos, sometimes held for what seemed like an eternity. We have not heard such technique since the era of the great Spanish diva Montserrat Caballe, whose voice I had the pleasure of hearing on several occasions. Radvanovsky’s ethereal high notes seemed to hang in the air. In the aria proper, her rock solid legato and long breath-line were stunning. The cabaletta that followed showed off her agility, not to mention her fortissimos with all the power and dramatic acuity one would want.

Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So

In the subsequent scenes when Norma discovers that her lover Pollione has betrayed her and seduced the young novice Adalgisa, Radvanovsky was dramatically convincing as a woman scorned, with a kaleidoscope of emotions ranging from rage, anger, jealousy, hatred, vengeance, bitterness, stoicism, motherly love, and finally resignation and a sense of peace. Through it all, the soprano offered up the most impeccable vocalism. It was an astoundingly accomplished performance.

Radvanovsky was joined by three superb principals. Isabel Leonard’s high mezzo with its unusually light timbre blended beautifully with the dark-hued soprano of Radvanovsky in “Mira o Norma.”  Russell Thomas has a trumpet for a voice, and he was vocally a totally thrilling Pollione, a role much more suited to him than last season’s Don Jose.  Oroveso is a relatively short role, and Russian bass Dmitry Ivashchenko made the most of his few moments to shine, singing with big volume and acting with the requisite gravitas. Former COC Ensemble soprano Aviva Fortunata was under-utilized as Clotilde, reduced to a few lines and bringing the children on and off stage.  Tenor Charles Sy as Flavio had more of a chance to show off his warm tenor. The chorus is extremely important in Norma, and the COC chorus was very impressive. Stephen Lord conducted an idiomatic, singer-friendly performance, drawing a big if somewhat overly loud, sound from the orchestra. That said, I do like his well-judged tempi, and his willingness to allow the singers, especially Radvanovsky, the freedom to showcase her incredible technique.

If there’s a fly in the ointment, it was the stage direction of Kevin Newberry.  From the opening scene onwards, there was a lack of dramatic urgency. This unit set is meant to depict the Druid’s armory, with the men preparing for war. The leisurely stroll by the chorus and supernumeraries in the opening scene was closer to what one would expect in Sunday in the Park with George! Using the same set to double as Norma’s dwelling is a little awkward, to say the least. Visually the large-scale columns and the wooden bull that comes on at the end were pleasing enough, but the blocking and the staging, in general, were too static and ultimately anti-dramatic. No matter — this was Sondra Radvanovsky’s show and she scored a total triumph. Seven more performances until November 5th at the Four Seasons Centre.

#LUDWIGVAN

Want more updates on Toronto-centric classical music news and review before anyone else finds out? Get our exclusive newsletter here and follow us on Facebook for all the latest.

Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So

Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300
comments powered by Disqus

Ludwig Van Toronto

THE SCOOP | Canadian Opera Company Leads The Pack In Nominations At 2019 Dora Awards

By Anya Wassenberg on May 28, 2019

Dora Awards announces 2019 nominees and grants Opera its own stand-alone division, along with Musical Theatre, and Touring.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300

THE SCOOP | Measha Brueggergosman To Receive Emergency Bypass Surgery In Calgary

By Michael Vincent on June 16, 2019

Renowned Canadian Opera singer Measha Brueggergosman has reported on her Facebook page that she is in Calgary waiting to receive double-bypass surgery in at Foothills Medical Centre.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article

SCRUTINY | Jan Lisiecki An Ideal Mendelssohnian With The TSO

By Arthur Kaptainis on June 6, 2019

Under the baton of guest conductor Karl-Heinz Steffens, Jan Lisiecki and the TSO make a convincing case for a poetic approach to Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_low_590x300
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700

We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.