In Vincenzo Bellini’s last opera, Elvira’s love for Arturo overcomes the power games in Puritan England, staged with darkly dramatic flair by Francisco Negrin as a world of blind dogma. Mariola Cantarero is compelling as the heroine on the verge of insanity in one of the greatest mad scenes in the history of opera. One of the leading lyric tenors today, John Osborn sings Arturo with fearless commitment and some spectacular top notes. In the pit is the bel canto specialist Giuliano Carella.
By 1981, when this production was taped for Canadian television, Joan Sutherland's voice was unquestionably past its prime. But even in its decline, that voice remained something quite special, and the role of the troubled Druid priestess Norma was one of her specialties. A substantial advantage in this recording is the presence at the podium of her husband and coach, Richard Bonynge, who had a deep understanding of the strengths and limitations of her voice and stage persona. His pacing and balance give the voice opportunities to challenge, at least momentarily, the ravages of time. Lotfi Mansouri, one of the great operatic entrepreneurs of the late 20th century, assembled a first-class supporting cast for Sutherland–most notably Tatiana Troyanos, to whose memory this video is dedicated. The performance of Troyanos in the role of the younger and equally troubled priestess Adalgisa is outstanding and would make this disc worth having even without its documentation of Sutherland. As far as it is possible to determine, this is the only video opera appearance of tenor Francisco Ortiz. On the basis of his performance as the Roman officer Pollione, he seems to have deserved more attention. Bass Justino Diaz gives a sterling performance as the old Druid Oroveso. (Joe McLellan)
In collaboration with Giovanni Antonini, Riccardo Minasi and Maurizio Biondi, Cecilia Bartoli restores the sound and spirit of Norma in a landmark Decca recording based on the opera’s original sources. Cecilia Bartoli leads a fabulous cast in Decca’s groundbreaking new recording, which presents Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma in a form that is complete with the exquisite mix of vocal and instrumental colours that Bellini intended for his ‘tragic opera’.
The Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli is one of the most charming and talented singers to appear on the scene in recent years, and this collection of Italian songs by three great opera composers–Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini–is a most deserving bestseller. There are many small pleasures in the selections, which reflect the bel canto predilections of their authors, and Bartoli renders them artfully. Some will be familiar even to casual listeners (Rossini's La Danza, the famous tarantella); others will be new to most, but equally deserving of a hearing. The sensitive and skillful accompaniment is by conductor-pianist James Levine.