[Met Performance] CID:244350
Norma {103} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/24/1976.

(Debut: Bernabé Martí
Review)



Metropolitan Opera House
February 24, 1976


NORMA {103}

Norma...................Montserrat Caballé
Pollione................Bernabé Martí [Debut]
Adalgisa................Shirley Verrett
Oroveso.................Raymond Michalski
Flavio..................Charles Anthony
Clotilde................Carlotta Ordassy

Conductor...............Gianfranco Masini

Review of John Ardoin in the Dallas News

NEW YORK - For the second round of "Normas" at the Metropolitan Opera in February, the management came up with a new set of principals.

In the title role was Montserrat Caballe, making her first appearances in New York this season. Her Adalgisa was Shirley Verrett, singing this role for the first time, and in leading male roles were tenor John Alexander as Pollione and bass Raymond Michalski as Oroveso.

These were the surface details of the performance I heard. Lurking just under the surface were implications of greater importance. Norma, as most opera addicts know, is the most demanding role created for the soprano voice. It requires great range, great flexibility, great sustaining power and a great dramatic presence and thrust.

What took this performance out of the ordinary is that Miss Verrett is very soon - in fact, next month on the Met's tour - also to assume the title role. As far as I can discover, this will make her the first singer in this century to perform, publically, both Norma and Adalgisa, a feat not unlike an actress playing both Ophelia and Gertrude in a single season, although Norma is more Lear-like in its scope and virtuosity. Actually, to be exact, since the world premiere of Bellini's "Norma" in 1831, only one other singer has managed this feat. Her name was Giulia Grisi. She created Adalgisa at its premiere, but did not turn to the title role until later when her voice had taken on a more dramatic cast (Bellini's letters make it clear that she was never dramatic enough for his tastes).

It is said in the late 1950s it was suggested to Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland that they alternate in the two roles during the same season. It seems the two ladies liked the idea until it came down to the point of deciding who was to sing the title role first. At that juncture, the project fell apart.

This challenge, however, may still become a reality, though not one involving Callas and Sutherland, for Miss Verrett is to repeat her Norma next year for the [first night] of La Scala in Milan. Her Adalgisa has been announced as Montserrat Caballe. Whether they will alternate their roles I do not know, but any impresario who would miss that bet is not worthy of the title.

Miss Verrett incidentally, has been trying to sing Adalgisa for a number of years now, and until these Met performances had only managed to record the part. I had journeyed to Paris in 1970 to hear what was to have been her first appearance in the role, but that performance, a concert version, was canceled by a chorus strike only two hours before starting time.

Miss Verrett's upcoming feat becomes more understandable and a bit less superhuman when you remember in their scenes together, Adalgisa mirrors virtually every high C, trill and scale Norma is required to sing. The big difference, of course, is the last act, which is Norma's alone, and which constitutes the ultimate challenge of the role and the opera.

One thing was certain last month from Verrett's Adalgisa - she has as much, and at times even more, of the body of sound, security of top and flexibility needed for the title role, as Miss Caballe possesses. However, Miss Verrett, whom Dallas will hear this month as soloist with the symphony, has not fully calibrated and weighed dramatically Adalgisa's lines as yet.

I wonder now if she will ever have a chance to do so? Her instincts are right for this music; she did, however, tend to stretch lines a bit too much and drain them of their impetus. Also, and curiously, she added several top notes to the part which were out of step with the mood of the scene. She did this in odd places where no cadenza was indicated; the one place a cadenza is allowed for Adalgisa, Miss Verrett followed the score literally! It could well have been Miss Verrett's potent presence in the cast which produced as fiery and exciting a performance from Miss Caballe as I have heard in at least a half dozen years. It was not all pretty to hear (there were off-center hard high notes), but I cheered her "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" approach to the part.

Marti was not in the freshest form as Pollione having sung a performance of "Meistersinger" the previous evening at New York City Opera. But he, too, brought an unaccustomed dash to his singing and delivered a pair of high C's with a good ring to them. Michalski was a strong Oroveso, and conductor Gianfranco Masini provided space (sometimes too much of it) and sympathy. He did not provide polish, but that was hardly cause for the chorus of boos which met his curtain bow. The production still depresses me; its cold, jagged metallic lines and frozen costumes have nothing in common with "Norma's" warmth, heroicism and nobility.



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