Bellini - Norma / Sutherland · Caballé · Pavarotti · Ramey · WNO · Bonynge
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Sutherland's Norma offers ravishingly beautiful tone at a pitch where most soprano voices get thin, exquisite grace and agility in the elaborate ornamentation that characterizes bel canto style, and freedom from strain no matter what kind of vocal acrobatics a composer may demand. What one misses here is the heightened drama, the precise delineation of character and emotion, and the verbal mastery of Callas. Sutherland's voice--the main reason for wanting to hear this recording--is perhaps a shade less fresh in this 1984 performance than when she recorded her first Norma 20 years earlier, but she still has all the grace, all the high notes, and most of the power that earned her the Italian nickname "La Stupenda." She heads an all-star cast that lives up to its reputation, and her husband's conducting is more impressive than it was in 1964. --Joe McLellan
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The finale must be heard, of course the Deh non volerli vittime! to her father..raw emotion, not Callas I agree, but Joan Sutherland on her own, grieving for her children, and by extension their father, Pollione.
Wonderful moments..a must have!
But does this recording achieves the aim of Bellini - "Opera, through singing, must make one weep, shudder, die..."? It didn't for me. As usual I was overawed by Sutherland's sensational singing (albeit not as sensational as 20 years years earlier). But I was not moved to tears by the story. If you wished to be moved to tears you need probably Pasta or Malibran. Or the closest we have to them, Callas.
This recording's probably not what Bellini had in mind, but the sensational singing and gorgeous sound should compensate amply. Its not without precedence too. Sutherland likely had her counterpart in Giulia Grisi (first Adalgisa, and Elvira in Puritani) who later became a sensational and gorgeous sounding Norma, in spite of Bellini's reservations. How wonderful if we had Sutherland singing Adalgisa in the 1952 Covent Garden Norma instead of Clothilde!
In spite of what some reviewers said, I have always found Serafin's conducting to be vastly superior to Bonynge's. I have trouble with his pacing of some of the music, which seemed to rob it of its rubato (what irony!), flow and drama. I do believe it has a major contribution of me not being deeply moved. Maybe Ms Sutherland is not at fault after all?
It cannot be denied by an honest critic that Sutherland's and Caballe's voices were captured here somewhat past their prime. In Sutherland's case, the tone on high has thinned and the "beat" in sustained tones in pronounced (not quite a wobble, but a beat). Caballe, on the other hand, is often brassy and harsh at sustained fortes and louder. I am a great, great fan of both of these ladies, but I cannot deny that their voices in 1984 in this demanding score are not what they were 10-15-20 years before.
That said, I love this record. Both leading ladies are absolute mistresses of the bel canto style. Their phrasing, approach to high notes, portamento, and coloratura are wonderful to hear. Where are their heirs? Sutherland has become truly regal in the role of Norma, still not as incisive nor terrifiying as Callas, but just as authoritative in her own way. Her diction is much improved, in fact, over her 1964 recording. Her coloratura on high is still spectacular, but balanced by a new warmth and vitality expressed through language and phrasing. Of course, the brilliant high D capping the Act One trio is vintage Sutherland!
Caballe, over 50 at the time of the recording, does the impossible and makes Adalgisa sound young! How many chesty matrons singing the role have done that? Caballe's trademark floated piannissimos are still there, her elegance undiminished. In the big act one duet with Norma, as Adalgisa, reveals her love affair and breaking of her vows, Caballe really sounds like a young woman shamefully revealing her secret to an older woman who cares for her. The passage that begins "ah, si fa core..." finds Caballe breathing a sigh of relief, her fear dissapating in Norma's loving embrace. .
FInally, Pavarotti is predictably fine as is Ramey, but the ladies really steal the show. They prove that art, style, and experience more than compensate for the effects of time on such great voices. Let's give this one a 4.5!
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and her lack of involvement with her heroines usually leaves me cold.Read more