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Worth the wait

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
10/06/2016 -  & October 15*, 18, 21, 23, 26, 28, November 5, 2016
Vincenzo Bellini: Norma
Sondra Radvanovsky/Elza van den Heever (Norma), Isabel Leonard (Adalgisa), Russell Thomas (Pollione), Dimitry Ivashchenko (Oroveso), Charles Sy (Flavio), Aviva Fortunata (Clotilde)
The Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Sandra Horst (chorus master), The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Stephen Lord (conductor)
Kevins Newbury (director), David Korins (set designer), Jessica Jahn (costume designer), Duane Schuler (lighting designer)

S. Radvanovsky & I. Leonard (© Michael Cooper)

Sondra Radvanovsky’s appearance as Norma for the Canadian Opera Company has been anticipated for years, even prior to her first assumption of the role in 2011 in Oviedo, Spain. Has it been worth the wait? Since the result is pretty close to being a triumph for all concerned, the answer is definitely “yes”.

Shared productions are becoming the standard procedure, and Kevin Newbury’s rather stylish production was first presented in San Francisco (with Ms Radvanovsky) in 2014. It soon goes on to Lyric Opera Chicago (also with Radvanovsky); Barcelona’s Teatre del Liceu is the European partner. By describing it as “stylish” I refer to the designs of both the unit set (a well-built fort or great hall) and costumes (first century BCE fashionista, with tattoos), a change from the usual image of Druids as primitive forest-dwellers. Hieratic gestures are made at various points. Not that this brings new insight to the piece (the chorus being more a musical device), but it provides a fresh look and does no intrusive harm to the central personal drama. However the visual emphasis on the militaristic de-emphasizes the moonlit dreaminess that permeates Bellini’s score.

The first of the three principals to make an entry is Pollione, with his major scene and aria that reminds us as to why this was the only bel canto role Jon Vickers ever sang. Russell Thomas’s staunch clarion voice made an almost startling impression, and later he demonstrated the full range of nuance, making an ideal match for the two prime donne.

So how was Ms Radvanovsky? In a word, terrific. She sensitively modulated her big voice to accommodate the role’s daunting range of expression throughout. She also commands the stage dramatically.

Isabel Leonard is a supremely elegant performer in both musicianship and deportment. While her voice is somewhat less ample than Ms Radvanovsky’s, the two are still marvelously well-matched.

Dimitry Ivashchenko is a fine Oroveso, and Charles Sy (Flavio) and Aviva Fortunata (Clotilde) also make a good impression.

Most important of all, everyone has the breath for Bellini’s daunting long lines. Stephen Lord’s conducting is especially impressive in the lengthy ensembles toward the end during which the whole musical structure was built up and sustained most impressively.

Michael Johnson



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