Rarely, you are fortunate enough to leave the Opera house after the final curtain with a fantastic sense of elation, so grateful for the experience you have just been blessed with. On the following day you start analysing the previous night more calmly – only to find out that not everything was so perfect. This is exactly what I went through after this fantastic production of Norma at the Israeli Opera, the opening night of its 2016/17 season. Yet, I’m not retracting my original 5-star rating, because that elation is still with me, nevertheless.
Bellini’s Bel Canto masterpiece is one of the most popular opera scores ever. The flipside is that whenever you listen to a live performance of Norma there are some elephants in the room, such as the voices of Callas, Tebaldi or Caballe in the lead role. The danger gets even more profound as the greatest hit of opera, the soprano’s prayer Casta diva, arrives as early as Act I. Alas, it took some time for Hrachuhi Bassenz to warm up, and her version of the aria was not as powerful and promising. Only later on, and in particular in Act II, it became apparent why this Armenian huge talent was chosen for the role: great warm voice, very precise in the technically challenging parts of her role and with excellent dramatic skills. Both Gustavo Porta, as the Roman proconsul Pollione, and Jennifer Holloway, as his lover Adalgisa enjoy powerful voices and notable dramatic presence. Carlo Striulli, Guy Mannheim and Anat Czarny have minor roles in this opera, but they all performs them very skilfully.
So what made this evening so unforgettable? Firstly – the theatrical achievement. Vittorio Borrelli’s remaking of Alberto Fassini’s original staging created a top dramatic and well-streaming impression of a very static plot. Combined with the simple yet innovative set design of William Orlandi they created a breathtaking stage. Secondly, of course, was Maestro Daniel Oren. He always carries with him so much energy and enthusiasm that infects every individual person in the production. Even more so in this production, especially visible in his orchestra which has rarely sounded so full-bodied and exciting.
When both drama and music perform simultaneously so perfectly – this is when you get great opera.
Sung in Italian with English and Hebrew subtitles