(photo credit: ISRAELI OPERA)
The moral of Bellini’s opera Norma, performed at the Israeli Opera, is that if you fall in love with a priestess, or two, you had better be careful not to risk being burned at the stake.
It took Bellini three hours to arrive at this conclusion.
In this performance however, directed by Alberto Fassini with sets by William Orlandi, and conducted by Daniel Oren, these were three hours of superb singing, tasteful direction and sets, and excellent performances by the orchestra and choir.
Direction and sets were appealingly abstract. Movable elements were shifted around wherever and whenever needed, leaving much to the audience’s imagination, that was constantly kept wide awake.
In the title role, Hrachuhi Bassenz’ soprano was bright, expressive, forceful yet gentle even on the highest notes. Her fury was such as to make her unfaithful lover, and the audience, tremble. Her aria “Casta diva,” near the opera’s beginning, was a highlight such as was not achieved again until the final dramatic confrontation with Polione.
Jennifer Holloway’s soprano, as Adalgisa, had a different timbre, just as these two women were different in character. Her voice sounded lovely, though forceful and strongly expressive in her excited scenes.
In the role of Pollione, Gustavo Porta’s radiant tenor was that of a persuasive yet arrogant lover, becoming appropriately mellow in the final scene, simply because of the realization that his death was unavoidable.
Carlo Striulli’s sonorous bass-baritone was an authoritative religious orthodox Oroveso, becoming human only at the very end, when his daughter was going to die.
The doomed couple’s tragic end was mercifully only suggested, leaving unappetizingly realistic details to the audience’s imagination.
One can only wish the Israeli Opera retains this high level of performance throughout its new season – a challenging goal.
Norma runs until December 17. For more info visit www.israel-opera.co.il.
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