Tuesday 7 February 2012

Norma conundrum

There are few dramatic conundrums in early 19th century Italian opera because the drama is essentially non-realistic so that you have to suspend disbelief for long periods of time. But in Bellini's Norma, the fact that Norma has been able to conceal a long-term affair with Pollione and the production of two children seems to stretch belief to beyond credulity. In fact most directors don't even try and simply present the events as fact and leave the audience to wonder, perhaps the the local populace are particularly credulous or stupid?

When Ian Judge's production of Norma was new in Scotland the title role was sung by Jane Eaglen. The doctor friend I was with commented that it was the only time that the pregnancy issue was believable as it would have been all to easy for some one of Eaglen's (very) substantial frame to have concealed the pregnancy. This might not have been Judge's idea, the casting was probably done on the basis of Eaglen's preeminent fitness for the role rather than her ability to believably hide two pregnancies.

But one idea of Judge's I did find particularly striking. During Casta Diva he was obviously concerned to ensure that Norma stood out amongst the assembled populace (and the stage at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow does not offer that much space). So the chorus prostrated themselves in front of their priestess and sang the chorus parts of the aria in this prone position. Very, very effective.

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