MET Live in Theater
I have seen many productions from the Metropolitan Opera as party of its live in HD performances in movie theaters. This production Norma is one of the few that I would say is better seen this way than at the opera house itself. This production is set deep the forest where little sunlight penetrates. The lighting is dim as a result. The costumes are all in shades of grey and black. The effect is that at times the performers merge with the background. In the movie theater we are onstage with the singers. We can see them even when though the lighting makes it challenging. I can only imagine that those sitting in the opera house would, particularly those in the higher reaches would often have seen little more than the white blobs of the singer’s faces floating against a dark background. Even in the movie theater, there were times when the chorus, though onstage, disappeared entirely into the background. We could hear them singing but the lighting and darkens of the scenery made them one with the set. It would have been great if, occasionally the sun had shown through so that we could really appreciate all the details of this production.
The story of Norma is essentially the story of Media with a different ending. The staging and singing here made for a very human, relatable story. One felt for Norma rather than being horrified by her actions. In most productions of Medea and Norma it is the fury of the woman scorned that is emphasized. Not so here. Sondra Radvanovsky gives us a Norma who is a mother first and Druid Priestess second. A woman whose desire for revenge is trumped by love and understanding. Norma is fiendishly difficult to sing. Her first aria, in particular is a huge mountain of music to climb. Ms. Radvanovsky was more than up to the challenge. Perhaps there was a she came up short of breath once or twice but that was more than outweighed by her heartfelt performance. She simply owned the role from beginning to end.
Joyce DiDonato was a marvel as Adalgisa. This was her debut in the role and she hit a home run. She gave us a woman torn between her love for Pollione and her devotion to her faith and to Norma. You could feel and hear the pain, the struggle and the ultimate awakening to true loyalty and faith in her singing and in her performance. Her voice is amazing and she used every bit of it to give us an affecting performance.
Joseph Callejaseemed to struggle at the beginning of the opera. It felt as if he was just working hard to get through Pollione’s opening scene and aria. This aria has a difficult high note that Mr. Calleja went for and achieved but the effort was noticeable. There was not much acting present. Once this was past, Mr. Calleja settled into the role and got stronger. If he did not quite capture the cad who would leave his wife and children for another woman, he very convincingly played the reformed man at the end who would willingly share Norma’s fate.
In the end, Norma sacrifices herself to restore grace and truth to the druids. She throws herself into a blazing pyre. I wish this production had done a better job of giving us this moment. We see an increasingly intense orange glow at the back of the stage indicating that the fire is growing. This production has Norma and Pollione walk upstage while the chorus surrounds them. We do not see them enter the flames. We are denied the power of the sacrifice. Rather than ending with a powerful dramatic moment, the opera ends with a thud.