English Touring Opera – Norma

Norma – Tragedia lirica in two acts to a libretto by Felice Romani after Norma, ossia L’infanticidio by Alexandre Soumet [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Norma – Yvonne Howard
Adalgisa – Alwyn Mellor
Pollione – Justin Lavender
Oroveso – Piotr Lempa
Flavio – Charne Rochford
Clotilde – Helen Johnson

Chorus & Orchestra of English Touring Opera
Michael Roswell

James Hurley – Director

Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: 27 April, 2009
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Vincenzo Bellini (1801-35)A real treat for lovers of Italian opera: a chance to hear Bellini’s “Norma”. With no modern-day divas to match the likes of Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland in the demanding title role, “Norma” has fallen from the repertory of major opera houses.

No doubt some fans of the work may have longed for a lavish stage treatment, but there is much to be said for leaving the visual realisation to the mind’s eye. With hoards of Gallic warriors, a Druid temple and a raging pyre at the climax, the opera can arguably have greater dramatic impact when freed from budgetary constraints and the limitations of acting and directorial abilities.

This does, of course, assume that musical values are first rate – which, in this case, they were. Among the strong cast was Yvonne Howard, stunning in her account of the eponymous Druid priestess. Resplendent, Howard held the audience spellbound with her effortless, creamy tones. With stratospheric lines well-integrated into the range of her powerful yet subtle voice, she was terrifying in her fury, communicated emotional gentleness and vulnerability, and was always dignified and commanding.

Alwyn Mellor displayed an impressively rich-bodied voice as the young priestess Adalgisa, and, even if her upper register was not quite so silvery in tone, she was a sensitive partner for Howard. Their ravishing duets were highlights. Justin Lavender coped valiantly with the bravura of Pollione, but sounded a bit worn-out to make a believable lover. Of the supporting cast, Charne Rochford impressed most – a virile, fluent tenor.

Michael Rosewell conducted a decent-sized orchestra with flair. The playing was stylish and alert. A few balance problems were evident: the chorus often struggled to be heard. Eighteen singers at full strength was not enough to carry over the orchestra in such moments as the thrilling account of the warriors gearing up for battle. The young chorus’s precision and gusto was only fully appreciated in less riotous moments.

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