Canadian Opera Company

by Vincenzo Bellini

Dates 30 March, 4, 7, 12 and 15, April 2006 at 7:30 p.m. 9 April 2006 at 2 p.m. Venue Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front Street East, Toronto

Norma June Anderson Pollione Attila Fekete Adalgisa Marianna Kulikova Oroveso Zdenek Plech Flavio Peter Barrett Clotilde
Yannick-Muriel Noah

Conductor David T. Heusel Director François Racine Set Designer
Allen Moyer Costume Designer Anna Oliver

Reviewer J. H. Stape

The Canadian Opera Company's revival of Norma (1831), last produced in 1998, opened the company's final spring season at the Hummingbird Centre before its move to its own house on University Avenue.

This production of Bellini's most enduring score is a sure winner of several counts: it features a strong and well balanced cast, a stylish staging abetted byintelligent direction, and a Norma in June Anderson in fine vocal and dramatic form. This splendid mounting and an equally brilliant Wozzeck the next night confirmed the company's primacy of place on the Canadian operatic scene.

Bellini's Norma pops into the repertoire only when a soprano capable of its extreme demands is available, and Anderson's handling of the title-role is decidedly a "creation." Easily negotiating the treacherous sections of the role, the American soprano, whose interpretation has graced the world's opera stages, gave a dramatically compelling performance from the moment she stepped onto the stage, delivering a luminous "Casta diva" shortly after. Characterized by suppleness of voice and tenderness of interpretation, the famous aria floated up and up, even conquering the venue's notoriously challenging acoustics.

From this point on, this was Anderson's evening, the audience captivated by a conception of the title-role more humanly persuasive than that of the great Dame Joan Sutherland and more vocally sure than Maria Callas's.

La Anderson was well matched by Marianna Kulikova whose Adalgisa was committed and musical. Not as dark or large as Marilyn Horne's voice, Kulikova's instrument nonetheless provided sufficient heft and contrast, the great duets being object lessons in that rightly named form of singing called bel canto.

Attila Fekete, insufficiently warmed up for his first aria, grew into his role as the evening went on, happier in ensemble work than when singing on his own. More vocally impressive and consistent was the Oroveso of Zdenek Plech whose magnificently burnished and large voice rang out with elegance. Dramatically, he was slightly stiff, but managed the transition from outraged priest to tender father affectingly.

In the smaller roles, the handsome Peter Barrett, who made his mark as Flavio, and Yannick-Muriel Noah as Clotilde, both members of the COC's Ensemble Studio, demonstrated the high quality of vocal training being offered in Toronto. These fresh, vibrant voices and the utterly confident stage presence of these artists bodes well for the company's future.

The stark staging, by Allen Moyer, squarely placed the attention on the music, but also symbolized the Druid's domination and impoverishment at the hands of the imperialist Romans. The forest of cut-down trees and the barriers symbolized a doomed society, an idea heightened by the closing lighting effects when the whole stage was flooded by the light of Norma's and Pollione's pyre foreshadowing things to come.

Conductor David T. Heusel after a somewhat raggedy overture came into his stride, giving a driven (sometimes rather rapid) reading. The orchestra played incisively, and the chorus made a worthy contribution to a highly successful and often thrilling evening.

© 2006 J. H. Stape