[Met Performance] CID:97760
Norma {12} American Academy of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 12/27/1927.

(Review)


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
December 27, 1927


NORMA {12}

Norma...................Rosa Ponselle
Pollione................Frederick Jagel
Adalgisa................Marion Telva
Oroveso.................Léon Rothier
Flavio..................Giordano Paltrinieri
Clotilde................Philine Falco

Conductor...............Tullio Serafin

Review of H. T. Craven in the Philadelphia Record

Greatest Opera Success Scored by Rosa Ponselle

Noted Soprano Stars in 'Norma' at Academy of Music

Until last evening the oldest opera-goer was not quite sure when he had heard his last great Norma. Alfred Hoegerie, local manager for the Metropolitan, believed the event must have happened about 38 or 40 years ago. But from now on the last great Norma will be easily and thrillingly recalled. She is Rosa Ponselle who, last night in the Academy of Music, coped superbly with that criterion by which the capacity of an ambitious soprano should be measured, the title role of Bellini's 98-year old opera.

" Norma" calls for a heroic coloratura, for an actress who can convey a sense of high tragic eloquence and passion in the grand manner, for an interpreter of superlatively dominating resources. The exactions are such that for many years "Norma" has been seldom sung.

With Miss Ponselle, maturing into one of the foremost singers of the age, Mr. Gatti-Casazza presumably felt confident of scoring a triumph with a revival by the Metropolitan troupe of Bellini's masterpiece. These expectations have been gloriously fulfilled this season first in New York and now in this city.

Play Above Ordinary

"Norma," which dates from Milan 1831, is a work far outclassing the general run of its operatic contemporaries. Bulwarked by a finely effective libretto, with scenes in Roman Gaul, and a posture of circumstances involving a priestess who has, through love, violated her vows, a rival votaress, a vacillating proconsul sought by both of these members of the Druid order, and a climatic immolation scene in which Norma goes to the pyre with the imperial legate, irresistibly drawn into the web of high sacrificial motive, the story is far more impressive and, above all, more articulate than in the average music play of the old bel canto school. It calls for magnificence of staging, for choral splendors and superb singers. In the main, if hardly to the full, Mr. Gatti-Casazza has been enabled to supply these requisites.

The Sicilian Bellini, who seemed to be taking a new stride in "Norma" - a self-imposed pace, never entirely developed, for he died within four years of the opera's premiere - has, of course, drawn largely upon his fertile gift of sheer melody. To modern ears, much of the orchestration sounds thin and rather naïve today. Yet there are passages of still striking nobility and exalted lyrics - dramatic eloquence - including especially the imperishable "Casta Diva" scene, with its stately and tremendously difficult recitative and gravely melodic aria, the last act choruses, the inspiring Adalgisa-Norma duets.

Few Dull Stretches

If conventional in sequences of phrasing, Belllini's melodic line was singularly firm and authoritative, begetting a beauty which commanded even the praise of Richard Wagner, himself, not usually an admirer of the Italian style. Bellini was extremely fond of the ear-titillating little figure called the "turn." It has been called a cheap device. Yet Wagner employed it as late as the prologue to "Götterdämmerung," in the heroic Brünnhilde motif.

'Norma" is not, for all its excellences, devoid of dull and arid stretches, nor of occasional meretricious themes out of key with the dramatic situations. But the artful Mr. Serafin, at the conductor's desk, performed, last evening, miracles in the way of refining such musical vulgarities. He brought out every increment of vitality in the old score and did his utmost for its weaknesses.

Ponselle Easily Star

With her herculean obligations, which she accepted with such superb vocalism, general authority and heroic breadth of treatment, Miss Ponselle was overwhelmingly the star of the occasion. She had notable support, however, in Marion Telva, who surpassed all her previous accomplishments here as Adalgisa, a high contralto role, which really fits her voice.

Frederick Jagel, the young American tenor, proved a pleasing surprise as the Proconsul Pollione. Lauri-Volpi, who has been singing the part, must surely invest it with great magnetism and fire. Mr. Jagel is still somewhat negative and decidedly prosaic in manner. There were moments last night, when attempted broadening of his tones occasioned something very like a false pitch. But Pollione is a role to stagger a much more experienced artist than this promising Brooklyn product. He gave, on the whole, a good performance. Leon Rothier was an excellent Oroveso, the high priest. Philene Falco, the Clothilde, and Giordano Paltrinieri the Flavio.

Joseph Urban's five settings were duly majestic and caught completely the atmosphere of the music-play -for such "Norma" actually is, rather than the costume-concert of its distant day. The large audience, tracing many old timers back to their original sources, received this memorable revival with very genuine delight.



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