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Sondra Radvanovsky reigns supreme in Lyric’s new-to-Chicago production of Vincenzo Bellini’s NORMA!
Reviewed by: Bob Douglas
World- acclaimed and delicious coloratura diva Sondra Radvanovsky brought the Lyric Opera’s house down Saturday evening when she opened a new production of the run of Norma. She has enjoyed tremendous successes at all of the world’s major opera houses as well as Lyric Opera and is described as “a force of nature; she handles the demands of the role with an exhilarating combination of bravura and tenderness,” After thrilling to her performance as Anne in Anna Bolena I became a true fan. Madame Radvanovsky is a singing actress similar to the great Maria Callas who made her American debut and opened Carol Fox’s new Lyric Opera of Chicago in November, 1954 under Nicola Rescigno in this same role; she easily makes everyone else on stage look like singers from the last century. Even when not singing, she creates wonderful “business” and one doesn’t take their eyes off of her. She calls this “perfect role vocally and temperamentally.”
Bellini’s riveting bel canto masterpiece Norma is a new-to-Chicago production where vocal pyrotechnics and sumptuous music brilliantly tell the tale of forbidden passion, betrayal, revenge, and, ultimately, redemption; lingering reality of death permeates this story of the Druids at war with her encroaching Romans. If you’re drawn to vocal acrobatics, Bellini’s Druid priestess Norma will thrill you. This is Bellini’s dazzling masterwork—a timeless story of love betrayed that runs the gamut of emotions from loyalty and passion to jealousy, revenge and redemption. You’ll hear melodies ranging from the stunningly serene “Casta diva” to the frenzy of vocal fireworks that pour forth as Norma’s rage overflows.
Norma, it is said, is opera’s answer to The Game of Thrones, and is the story of a Druid priestess who betrays her faith and country when she falls in love the Roman enemy of her people. But the pain of her lover’s betrayal unleashes her rage in a frenzy of thrilling vocal fireworks that will leave audiences breathless. Madame Radvanovsky brings a performance The New York Times calls “dramatically and vocally arresting” and Musical Toronto declares an “astoundingly accomplished performance” and “a total triumph.” Sondra Radvanovsky calls Norma a “perfect role vocally and temperamentally
The story: The action takes place in a mountaintop Druidic Temple during the Roman occupation of Gaul. In the Roman Empire, a clandestine love affair brings two mortal enemies together during a time of war. But when Norma discovers that her beloved now loves another, a fiery new battle begins as betrayal, anguish and fury take the reins. From the sublime “Casta diva” to the blazing finale, Norma delivers an overwhelming feast of vocal fireworks.
American Russell Thomas sang the role of Norma’s lover and father of her two children in great voice. Elizabeth DeShong sang the priestess role of Adalgisa also in fine voice but I wish these two singers had observed Madame Radvanovsky’s acting work. She stood out from the others the moment she walked onto the stage and before singing a note. Jesse Donner, a third-year Ryan Opera Center member sang the role of Flavio and was most impressive both by his voice and stage presence. Maestro Riccardo Frizza made his Lyric debut conducting the perfected controlled orchestra and Michael Black worked his magic once again commanding the chorus. Kevin Newbury, the director, was faced with the challenge of only a handful of characters and a minimum of action. He delivered an opera utterly committed to the nuances of this work and used Madame Radvanovsky’s talents to their very best. (He directed Madame Radvanovsky in Lyric’s 2014-15 Season in Anna Bolena).
Duane Schuler’s lighting design is his finest work that I have ever seen on the Lyric stage. He took a grey overwhelming set and imbued many emotions with his ever-changing effects. Combined with the set design by David Korins, the set and the lighting create a magical stage marriage; his settings are living, breathing art. Jessica Hahn’s costume designs were indicative of the Druid flowing robes in opposition of the Roman army’s studied and deliberate lines. Sarah Hatten out did herself with her hair and wig designs. Never have I seen such a big bunch of heathens on stage! I do not know how she achieved this effect with the entire chorus but she did. I wanted to take them all in to the nearest shower and wash them off. Great work!
If you’re drawn to vocal acrobatics, Bellini’s Druid priestess Norma will thrill you.
Norma is presented in seven performances through February 24 at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Tickets are available now at lyricopera.org/Norma or at (312) 827-5600.
Seven performances through February 24
Lyric Opera at the Civic Opera House
Phone: (312) 827-5600