[Met Performance] CID:120790
Norma {36} Matinee Broadcast ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 02/20/1937., Broadcast


Metropolitan Opera House
February 20, 1937 Matinee Broadcast

NORMA {36}
Bellini-F. Romani

Norma...................Gina Cigna
Pollione................Giovanni Martinelli
Adalgisa................Bruna Castagna
Oroveso.................Ezio Pinza
Flavio..................Giordano Paltrinieri
Clotilde................Thelma Votipka

Conductor...............Ettore Panizza

Director................Désiré Defrère
Designer................Joseph Urban

Norma received two performances this season.

Review by W. J. Henderson in The New.York Sun

"Norma" returned to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House Saturday afternoon. There was a large and demonstrative audience, which was to be expected, since the opera was distinctively Italian and there was an Italian cast. Almost every dramatic soprano cherishes an ambition to sing the title role in this long-lived work of Bellini and there is a general belief that she ought to do so, if only to prove that she is a continuator of the great line beginning with Pasta.

But most revivals of "Norma" in these swiftly moving times reveal the questionable results of specialization. In the early years of the last century all sopranos were equipped with technique enabling them to deliver the long, breath-taking phrases of the music with a suave and finely spun legato and to dispose of the florid measures with the facility of singers who had given many hours to the practice of vocalization. Now florid music seems to be the private property of "colorature" sopranos, while dramatic singers excel in heavy declamation and melody of agitated character. Between the two the old dramatic bravura is in a perilous state.

Mme. Gina Cigna, who sang Norma Saturday afternoon, is a dramatic soprano. She was apparently most comfortable when she was singing the turbulent recitative preceding Norma's advance upon her children with a stiletto, which she hysterically abandoned in favor of a loving mother's fond embrace. The famous "Casta diva" was negotiated only tolerably and at a considerably slower tempo than that of the prefatory ritornello under Mr. Panizza's baton. Mme. Cigna therefore found the enduring phrases trying, but was able to skim over the simplified decorations timorously and without brilliance except that of high tones. The cabaletta, "Ah, bello a me ritorna" demanding more rapid pace, was not a notable exhibition of skill in vocalization.

Mme. Cigna's impersonation had dignity of bearing and attractive appearance, but the singing was marred by frequent emission of loud and strident tones. The style was wanting in the grand line which tradition requires. In its stead there was much spasmodic utterance and many accents into the upper scale accomplished with manifest effort. The soprano sang her numbers in their original keys, which is regarded as an honorable achievement, since practice has sanctioned frequent transpositions.

Mme. Castagna, who was heard as Adalgisa several times when she was a member of the Hippodrome organization, was again a plausible representative of the second victim of Pollione's inconstancy. She and Mme. Cigna received much applause for the celebrated duet "Mira, O Norma," from an audience which was ready and even anxious to bestow vociferous approval on closing cadences forcibly projected.

Mr. Martinelli as Pollione was, unfortunately, not in his best voice and had a hard time with some of his music, especially in the first scene. But he was a stalwart figure and evidently acquainted with the old opera and its demands. Mr. Pinza was the remaining principal of the Metropolitan's last previous cast which sang the work at its hundredth anniversary on December 27, 1931. His associates then were Miss Ponselle as Norma, Gladys Swarthout as Adalgisa and Mr. Lauri-Volpi as Polllione.

Samuel Chotzinoff in The New York Post:

The trouble with Mlle. Cigna is not that she fails to be all the things that Norma is, but that she is not each of them to a sufficient degree. She is, indeed, as personable and as regal a figure as one could reasonably expect to find. As an actress she is sincere and, sometimes, affecting. Her voice is of fine and often sensuous quality, and she commands it at times with the craft of an experienced vocalist. But her histrionism seldom rises to the classic serenity of the tragic heights of the role. In certain phrases she showed herself capable of Bellini's melodies, yet her singing of the ineffable "Casta Diva" was both labored and mannered, while her coloratura in the florid and bravura passages throughout the opera lacked the skill and the assurance without such music seems only the testy and immature vocalizations of a conservatory pupil. When the listener is placed in the position of having to worry about the fate of descending and ascending scales it cannot be said that he is tasting the delights of a lyric and dramatic style that is reputed to be naturally verdant and luxurious as a tropical forest.

The Adalgisa, Mlle. Bruna Castagna, appeared rather more to the Bellini manner born. Mr. Martinelli, too, seemed at home in the music, and comported himself as Norma's faithless husband with a restraint and dignity that were altogether commendable. The only really authentic performance of the afternoon was supplied by Mr. Pinza who sang Oroveso. Here was style, authority, dramatic force and vocal beauty.

Mr. Panizza, who conducted, hardly scratched the surface of the score. The overture was tepid and unrhythmic when it was not merely noisy, and the rest of the orchestral commentary was projected in a manner that made Bellini's reputation as a noble lyric and dramatic composer seem rather a matter of hearsay than truth.

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times

A very large audience attended the performance of Bellini's "Norma" yesterday afternoon in the Metropolitan Opera House, This audience was cold after the first act, but uproarious after the second and third when Gina Cigna, who appeared for the first time here in the title part, was repeatedly called before the curtain. There were more demonstrations at the end of the show, The size of the gathering was due largely to curiosity about Miss Cigna's Norma. The part has not been heard at the Metropolitan since Rosa Ponselle sang it there in the season of '31-'32. And high reputation as a Norma had preceded Miss Cigna.

Her performance was curiously uneven and for much of the time incongruous with the technique and style of Bellini's music. So much was this the case that one is inclined to believe that the second "Norma" performance, where Miss Cigna is concerned, may tell a tale more favorable to one who had already proved herself an exceptional artist. There were signs yesterday of nervousness and strain. "Casta diva" came off badly. The first act was not very dramatic, in spite of some well-delivered recitative and nobly curved phrases here and there.

Dramatic Interpretation

The second and third acts were better, for the voice was freer and there was more dramatic feeling. In the main, Miss Cigna's interpretation was more dramatic than Miss Ponselle's, but not as well sung. Now and again a full and rounded tone, dramatic in accent, came forth. Or a passage of rapid bravura was done with a sudden exactness and with the air of the singer taking it in her stride which afforded a conception, here and there, of what such passages delivered by a singer of ample vocal resource and complete technical equipment might do in the part.

But melodic passages were up, tones spread, the high register of the voice, which seems to be its best part, was unnecessarily forced; other places were undertaken with studied caution which robbed them of movement and of spontaneous feeling. And again and again, especially on high notes, Miss Cigna forced.

This was unnecessary and unbeautiful. It was not true to the nature of the voice, nor to Bellini's style. Miss Cigna was most convincing, most dramatic, in certain passages of sustained song. Sometimes she took a moment of bravura with accuracy and with sweep, as a great singer might take a passage in her stride. When she forced, the tones lost focus and took on edge. It is to be admitted that the more the forcing, apparently, the louder was the applause.

Bruna Castagna Sings Well

Better singing was Miss Castagna's. This is naturally a rich and beautiful voice, particularly when Miss Castagna was not infected, as she was in some of the cadenzas or two, by her partner's pushing of fortissimi tones. In such places there was a fine mutual disregard of tonal beauty and a none too considerate concern for the pitch. Otherwise Miss Castagna's performance became that of the best Adalgisa that the Metropolitan has had in the last ten years, even if the atmosphere was somewhat marred when Mr. Martinelli inadvertently got tangled in Adalgisa's long wig, and Miss Castagna was forced to step into a wing to adjust matters.

The best singer on the stage, however, was Giovanni Martinelli. He proved a hundred times over what it means to have a thoroughly grounded technique and a real grasp of an opera's tradition. He was the one who gave in his performance the least evidence of effort, with whom all technical means were subordinated to an expressive end; who seemed to be uttering naturally what the music had to say and who interpreted with the authority of an artist in his own right. He exaggerated neither in expression nor in quantity of tone. He sang with genuine feeling, so that one entered again into the spirit of Bellini's school and period as he sang. This was something of a lesson. To the effect of Mr. Martinelli's performance can be added the magnificent voice and the fine dignity of Mr. Pinza as Oroveso, the competency of Miss Votipka and Mr. Paltrinieri in minor parts, the very able and exciting performance of the chorus and Mr. Panizza's dramatic reading of the score.

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