The winter revival of the Met’s opening night Norma brought a new conductor and new stars in the main two female roles, and they could not have been more different from their predecessors. Sir David McVicar’s direction on Robert Jones’ dark and gloomy set, with the near-savage Druids looking for war and the individuals pretty much left to their own devices remains the same – perhaps more brightly lit – but still mostly mood inducing. Sandra Radvanovsky’s voice, as Norma, was laser-like and her intensity palpable, and Joyce di Donato’s graceful, waif-like reading was filled with pathos. Both women were lithe and their movements tended to be quick. Now, both Angela Meade and Jamie Barton offer a more staid pair and, from a distance, they appear somewhat alike. In the second act in particular, when both are wearing rather lovely dark velvet gowns – where do these Druids shop? – they can appear as one-another’s mirror-image. It makes for an off-putting show.

But their singing was, in a word, gorgeous. Both have enormous, rounded tones and both are adept at Bellini’s particular brand of coloratura and at sculpting long melodies. Meade’s opening recit, “Sediziose voci”, seemed a bit rushed and lacking drama, but her “Casta diva” and its cabaletta were about as perfectly sung as one has heard them in years. The tone was warm, the breaths long and easy, the chest voice judicious but effective, the top notes right-on. Later in the opera, when Norma’s rage takes over, her normally placid stage presence does her in somewhat, but were one listening to the performance rather than listening and seeing it, he effect would be ideal.

Even more praise for Jamie Barton’s Adalgisa: sung perfectly, and with temperament to spare, one felt for her plight. The women’s duets together went off without a hitch – the ascent in thirds at the close of the first act’s duet was taken pianissimo – simply gorgeous.

Tenor Joseph Calleja nearly came to grief in his first act scene: after ducking every note above an A flat, he cracked on the final B flat and took the lower octave. He sounded out of sorts this evening and thick-voiced, but was a good foil for Norma’s “In mia man” late in the show. Matthew Rose’s Oroveso was dignified and warlike by turns. 

Joseph Colaneri led the glorious Met Orchestra and superb chorus with, alternately, vigor and tenderness, with a grand feel for Bellini’s drama. A wildly appreciative audience offered tumultuous applause.