NORMA by Vincenzo Bellini, directed by François Racine, conducted by David T. Heusel (Canadian Opera Company). At the Hummingbird (1 Front East). To April 15. See Continuing. $18-$175. 416-872-2262. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Norma is one opera I don't enjoy seeing - it's just too hard to pull off. Not that there's anything wrong with the piece itself. Bellini 's endlessly inventive melodies help push along a compelling story that's essentially a love triangle set in ancient Gaul during Roman times.
But the title role of the spurned high priestess is so difficult, live performances usually end in disappointment. Better to stay home and listen to Callas or Sutherland.
After watching U.S. soprano June Anderson in the role, I don't need to see it again. It's hard to imagine it better sung or interpreted.
To be sure, Anderson's lyric yet flexible voice has lost some of the bloom from her 1990s recordings, and often she's a tad too careful and cautious in her delivery. But the soprano has thought through every moment in the score. She moves - talk about stage presence! - from dreamy lover to vengeful fury to pleading daughter with effortless precision.
Thankfully, this isn't a one-singer opera - or production. The gorgeous mezzo voice of Marianna Kulikova (playing temple virgin Adalgisa) blends beautifully with Anderson's, and as the philandering Pollione, Attila Fekete , while not the most subtle of actors, comes alive dramatically when he's next to one of the women. Bass Zdenek Plech has a voice and stage power that resonates long after he's finished singing.
Director François Racine has tightened the 1998 production, focusing the drama sharply and adding a stately, classical feel to the interactions that's totally appropriate to the work's pre-Verdi origins. Conductor David T. Heusel 's leisurely tempi contribute to this as well.
Allen Moyer 's sets still remind me of a house made of toothpicks, but they don't distract from the fiery passion onstage. Too bad Thomas C. Hase 's lighting is occasionally shaky.
Still, as the COC departs for its new home, Norma delivers a terrific final memory of their old one.