All those demerits fade into irrelevance when the singers are
Montserrat CaballÈ, Jon Vickers, and Josephine Veasey at the Orange
Festival. No other filmed version of Bellini’s masterpiece comes
close, and this latest one from Dynamic never gets within shouting
distance (an apt term for some of the singing), despite its origin at
the theater named for the composer.

Filmed at the Teatro Massimo Vincenzo Bellini in June 2005, the staging
clumsily combines visually dull traditional sets with goofy director’s
touches. The costumes appear to be made from hemp, which may have some
historical validity but may only serve to induce sympathetic itchiness
on the part of many viewers. A beautiful tree highlights the first
scene; once the opera moves indoors the stage becomes barren of visual
interest. Not so the Druid goddess, portrayed by Dimitra Theodossiou,
whose short, flame-red hair gives her a proto-Punk appearance.
Norma may be fierce, but she walks into fire, not dives into a mosh

Theodossiou possesses some of the stately self-possession called for by
the early scenes, but her “Casta Diva” could have more warmth and
beauty to supplement her precision. As the rage erupts, Theodossiou
comes into her own, with some scintillating delivery. The problem for
some Normas, which Theodossiou does not evade, is to remain sympathetic
in her anger. Pollione must eventually come back to her, even to join
her in death. Theodossiou remains so edgy and angry that this
development does not convince.

A better Pollione than Carlo Ventre’s would help matters. Besides
lacking an appealing appearance, he can’t compensate (as many tenors
have) with an attractive, impassioned tone. He tends to bark and sweat,
long before he gets anywhere near the pyre. The mousy exterior of
Adalgisa, sung by Nidia Palacios, hides a fine young singer who brings
out at least a semblance of warmth in Theodossiou. Neither lady
can make their dedication to Ventre’s Pollione plausible.

As if to throw a little modern stagecraft into the proceedings,
director Walter Pagliaro has Pollione brought on stage in act two with
each of his hands tied to the end of long ropes. This ridiculous image
gets even more ludicrous when Norma asks to be left alone with
Pollione, and the ropes are extended off stage into opposite wings. The
director would have been better off finding something to do with the
chorus, who stand idly around throughout, arms at their sides.

The orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Massimo Bellini do a creditable
job under conductor Giuliano Carlini. Despite the admirable sound and
video quality, this Norma simply cannot claim artistic standards high enough to make it essential viewing.

Chris Mullins

image_description=Vincenzo Bellini: Norma
product_title=Vincenzo Bellini: Norma
product_by=Dimitra Theodossiou, Nidia Palacios, Carlo Ventre, Riccardo Zanellato, Teatro Massimo Bellini di Catania, Giuliano Carella (cond.)
product_id=Dynamic 33493 [2DVDs]