[Met Performance] CID:350054
New Production
Norma {133} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/11/2001.

(Debut: Jennifer Check

Metropolitan Opera
October 11, 2001
New Production

NORMA {133}
Bellini-F. Romani

Norma...................Jane Eaglen
Pollione................Richard Margison
Adalgisa................Dolora Zajick
Oroveso.................Hao Jiang Tian
Flavio..................Eduardo Valdes
Clotilde................Jennifer Check [Debut]

Conductor...............Carlo Rizzi

Production..............John Copley
Designer................John Conklin
Lighting designer.......Duane Schuler

Norma received seven performances this season.

Production gift of a Managing Director and his wife

Review of John W. Freeman in the January 2002 issue of OPERA NEWS

Bellini's "Norma" came in for a new production at the Met on October 11. Jane Eaglen sang some parts of the music well and had trouble with others. Hers is a noble dramatic soprano without much suppleness or Mediterranean-style temperament. Crisp attack and agile figuration, needed for bel canto, are not part of her formidable arsenal. Still, there was no shortage of intensity behind this Norma's anger, indignation or remorse. Less convincing were passages that rely on shading and dexterity, such as "Casta Diva." With her voice lightened and reined in, Eaglen's soft, modulated singing was destabilized by insecurity of pitch. Once warmed up, in Act II, she lit out on a secure "Io fui così rapita" and joined the rock-solid support of her Adalgisa, Dolora Zajick, in long-breathed duets. The opera's finale was also fair game for Eaglen's sense of grand, sweeping statement.

Zajick found a perfect fit in Adalgisa's music, which never tempted her toward verismo raucousness, keeping the tone light and youthful, the line smooth and shapely. More comfortable in Bellini's idiom than anyone else in the cast, she seemed to inspire the others. Her duets with the estimable Pollione of Richard Margison encouraged him to throttle down his steady spinto tenor for a suavely persuasive "Vieni a Roma." Perhaps this was sparked by Zajick's long "messa di voce" before that, at the start of her phrase "Io l'obbliai," a literally breathtaking demonstration of bel canto technique. Hao Jiang Tian, an imposing bass, barked a little as Oroveso, but his tone was commanding and well supported. A Met newcomer, Jennifer Check, offered a warm, concerned Clotilde.

Given the need to humor the singers with one hand while shaping Bellini's broad movements with the other, conductors of "Norma" have a thankless task. While showing a sense of rubato, Carlo Rizzi did avoid the corniest rhythmic distortions, such as the traditional exaggerated ritards in the cabaletta of "Mira, o Norma." And for contrast to the long, leisurely Bellini melodies, he seized on anything lively. But if the "Guerra!" chorus (with its beautiful coda restored) moved right along, much of the soloists' music (apart from Norma's own, which stirred Bellini's muse) chugged along listlessly.

John Conklin's spare, abstract sets relied on moon imagery - a couple of total eclipses; a moon-within-a-moon, like a stainless-steel ball, lacking only a corporate logo printed across it; a moon as an antique shield; a big gray moon silhouetting a bare tree. The scenes in Norma's "hut," suggested by jagged sections of wall, with wind-bent trees outlined against the same gray moon, approached a more poetic, less distracting imagery.

When stage director John Copley had something to work with, such as the "Guerra!" chorus, he played effectively on the Gauls' restless eagerness to turn against their Roman occupiers. Here, he conspired with Conklin and lighting designer Duane Schuler to highlight the rebel spears in a striking, "Götterdämmerung"-like tableau. And after an evening of unrelieved darkness, the final scene, with fire behind, kept pace with the mounting temperature of the music. If this wasn't a "Norma" for the ages, it had its moments.

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