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Bellini: Norma / Papian, Smith, Reynolds [Blu-ray]

Bellini / Smith / Giuseppini / Reynolds / Nco
Release Date: 09/30/2008 
Label:  Opus Arte   Catalog #: 7013  
Composer:  Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Anna SteigerHugh SmithCarlo BosiHasmik Papian,   ... 
Conductor:  Julian Reynolds
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Opera ChorusNetherlands Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

*** This Blu-ray Disc is only playable on Blu-ray Disc players and not compatible with standard DVD or HD DVD players. ***

I quote from the back of the DVD case: “In [stage director] Guy Joosten’s ingenious production of Bellini’s masterpiece, Norma is about more than just beautiful singing. It becomes a layered, timeless drama in which Norma is the archetypal successful woman struggling to retain her dominant but vulnerable position.” In other words, your ears will probably recognize Bellini’s Norma, but your eyes—well, that’s a different matter. This is not a traditional Norma production featuring a parade of singers in Druidic haute couture. Oh yes, there is some traditional costuming—flowing robes and Roman
Read more armor—that reminds us of Bellini/Romani’s intentions, but it is juxtaposed with early-to mid-20th-century apparel. The scenery, designed by Johannes Leiacker, is a curious mixture. Much of the upstage area is dominated by a huge fallen tree. It is intended to remind us that it is scenery, because it is reversed so we can see its inner construction. The suggestion that we are backstage is enhanced by the placement of makeup tables, complete with photos wedged into the frames.

I quote from the back of the DVD case again: “Hasmik Papian’s lyrical and intense interpretation of the title role accentuates the striking similarity between a Druid high priestess and a modern opera diva.” Well, yes, press release puffery aside, Norma makes her entrance dressed as the opera diva arriving at the opera house. Also dressed in 20th-century apparel are the chorus members acting as adoring fans, many asking for autographs, which she dispatches with hasty aplomb and a Pepsodent smile. She treats them to “Casta diva,” for which they are enthusiastically grateful. Once backstage, the complications of the plot become mixed with the intrigues of the green room. Adalgisa initially comes off as an operatic Eve Harrington (All About Eve) before realigning her allegiances in act II in accordance with Romani’s libretto. Norma’s children pop out of a trap in the stage floor, Clotilde, also in modern attire (a no-nonsense skirt and jacket and sensible shoes) is a strict nanny. Pollione remains in modern dress; Flavio likes to wear his Roman costume. By act II, the chorus has changed from backstage groupies to The Opera Chorus in traditional Norma attire, portraying Druids and Romans. The production is, as advertised, “layered.” It’s potentially very confusing at times (I admit to numerous moments of confusion and bewilderment), but I also found it fascinating and never boring. Having sat through several stand-there-and-sing productions of Norma that induced harmonious fatigue, this Netherlands “layered, timeless drama” was interesting, very well acted, and featured some wonderful singing, especially from Hasmik Papian (Norma) and Irini Tsirakidis (Adalgisa). This was my first exposure to Hasmik Papian. She, alone, is worth the price of this DVD. In the video extras, we learn that she was a last minute replacement for Nelly Miricioiu.

It is a handsome production. The scenic elements against a black background on a shiny black stage are highlighted by atmospheric lighting. Guy Joosten creates many eye-pleasing stage pictures with his placement of characters on and around the tree trunk. I especially appreciated the filming. It provided a variety of images without resorting to a frenetic series of visual snippets. The viewers’ attention was allowed to remain on the stage action long enough to become involved in the production.

Some extras are provided on the disc. There are interviews with some of the singers, Nelly Miricioiu, and production members, plus a synopsis that delivers the story in traditional terms and ignores Joosten’s backstage interpretation. In the enclosed booklet, there is a discussion of Bellini and the creation of Norma. Subtitles are available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Netherlands. The screen is 16/9 anamorphic; the sound is LPCM stereo. This is not your typical Norma, but I found it engaging and enjoyed it very much. I hope you do, too.

FANFARE: David L. Kirk [reviewing the standard DVD version, BBC/Opus Arte 959]

Hasmik Papian, Hugh Smith, Irini Tsirakidis, Giorgio Giuseppini, Anna Steiger, Carlo Bosi
Netherlands Chamber Orchestra
Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera
Julian Reynolds, conductor
Guy Joosten, stage director

Picture format: 1080i; 16:9
Sound format: 5.0 and 2.0 PCM audio
Region code: 0 (All Regions)
Languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch
Running time: 188 minutes

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Works on This Recording

1.
Norma by Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Anna Steiger (Soprano), Hugh Smith (Tenor), Carlo Bosi (Tenor),
Hasmik Papian (Soprano), Giorgio Giuseppini (Bass), Irina Tsirakidis (Soprano)
Conductor:  Julian Reynolds
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Opera Chorus,  Netherlands Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1831; Italy 
Date of Recording: 2005 

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