[Met Performance] CID:245020
Norma {108} Cleveland Public Auditorium, Cleveland, Ohio: 04/26/1976.


Cleveland, Ohio
April 26, 1976

NORMA {108}

Norma...................Shirley Verrett
Pollione................John Alexander
Adalgisa................Joy Davidson [Last performance]
Oroveso.................Raymond Michalski [Last performance]
Flavio..................Charles Anthony
Clotilde................Carlotta Ordassy

Conductor...............Jan Behr

Review of Frank Hruby in the Cleveland Plain Dealer

'Norma' sounds less than normal

Cleveland's longtime love affair with the Metropolitan Opera developed an interesting hiccup last night as the venerable New York company opened its 50th anniversary of springtime opera here in Public Hall. It was one of the smallest [first] night crowds in memory, one that would comfortably fit into the Metropolitan Opera House itself. This sullies a bit one of our bits of folklore here, that we regularly, even on a slow night, put more people in Public Hall than the Met ever sees at home.

The [first] night vehicle was Bellini's "Norma," not what one would call a gate-smasher out here in the provinces, but one whose drawing power is not all that feeble, either. It takes one (and better, two) stellar female voices, and this it had in the person of Shirley Verrett in the title-role but who, until last week in Boston, has been singing the second-among-equals role of Adalgisa.

Her performance last night might possibly have engendered the same here, but the surrounding production kept damping the first of truly great and exciting opera. Miss Verrett, a slow starter, was for the better part of the first act actually eclipsed by Joy Davidson, the Adalgisa of the evening. In intonation, purity of voice and focus, Miss Davidson pulled away to an early lead but stumbled at one critical moment, allowing Miss Verrett to catch up and then dominate from there on. Their duets were well blended, but by then it was Miss Verrett's opera.

Tenor John Alexander's Pollione was big and resonant, although he posed and looked handsome rather than throwing himself into the demands of the roles. He kept looking like the innocent hero, when actually Pollione was for the most part a two-timer who only in the final moments developed some gumption and character.

Raymond Michalski's Oroveso was impressively done, and Carlotta Ordassy and Charles Anthony did right by their smaller roles. For some unexplained reason, an extra intermission was tossed in (between Acts I and II) which ran the show to nearly midnight. It was difficult to see that it was that required the extra time, for certainly the abstract set was virtually unchanged and the costume changes were minimal.
But perhaps the chief reason "Norma" did not live up to normal expectations for {first] night was that the whole production seemed listless and at time plodding. There were, of course, several delicious moments of song, for when the Misses Verrett and Davidson were right, there were right indeed.But when the tempos should have been siding and abetting the tension or emotion, they were simply slow, to the point where one wished they would all get with it. Its musical seams, in other words, were showing, and it did not appear that anyone - conductor Jan Behr or anyone else - was doing much about it.
Then there were the unexplained flashes of light here and there suggesting a battle in the distance - until one realized that in 70 B. C. there was not gunpowder to make that kind of effect. Lighting perhaps? Volcano? Druidical photographers? Stage effects not justified or understood are of little help.
And then there were slips, as when the Roman Proconsul Pollione left his crimson helmet on stage where it remained thought the next scene among the Druids, looking several times brighter than, say, a lipstick smudge on a shirt collar, and just as out of place. Had that happened at a real conclave of Druids, general mayhem would have ensued and the opera developed from the material would have been that much shorter.

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