Alberto Fassini’s production of Norma was first staged in 2002 and then re-staged several times (now through the collaboration of Vittorio Borrelli). The first impression is that this mis-en-scene is inevitably time-worn. Visually traditional, it often indulged on the most predictable aspects of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera: huge glimpses of the moon, blue shades of light during the druids’ rituals, red lights when Adalgisa and Norma’s sentiments erupt. Quite linear, but neither profound nor vaguely innovative, the production appears instead to be some sort of comic strip. Costumes and backdrops are no less conventional: leather sandals, armour, swords and all of the other awaited accoutrements of a true Gaul, alongside enormous totems and kitschy fake rocket walls delineating the space.

Maria Agresta (Norma) © Ramella & Giannese | Teatro Regio di Torino
Maria Agresta (Norma)
© Ramella & Giannese | Teatro Regio di Torino

Apart from the scenes, which held no particular interest, the rest did not impress either. Roberto Abbado’s conducting was thick and monotonous, far from the purity and morbidity of Bellini’s ancestral score. The Orchestra of Teatro Regio was unusually dysfunctional: it realised a mostly correct execution, even though there were no great moments of pure pathos. Percussion was sometimes anarchic, with moments of unexpected sudden blasts which served to sweep away the sublime music, often interrupting the dreamy atmosphere such as in the magnificent finale “Deh! Non volerli vittime”. At the outset, the orchestra even covered Pollione’s first recitative and cavatina (“Svanire le voci”).

Roberto Aronica (Pollione) and Maria Agresta (Norma) © Ramella & Giannese | Teatro Regio di Torino
Roberto Aronica (Pollione) and Maria Agresta (Norma)
© Ramella & Giannese | Teatro Regio di Torino

It cannot be said that this performance was a vocal triumph. Roberto Aronica was the only singer who emerged with full possession of his part (Pollione), vocally and physically strong. He demonstrated wise phrasing, an articulated legato, an ease and precision indispensable for such a bel canto role. He perhaps ran into some difficulty at the very beginning of the opera, revealing a little fatigue on the high pitched notes during “Meco all’altar di Venere”. His identification with the character flowed at times into an exaggeration and boldness over the lines, but overall this was an admirable performance.

Sadly, the rest of the cast was disappointing. Maria Agresta is a splendid soprano, but this is not her best repertoire. She needed more charisma and solemnity. Moreover, her voice lacked bel canto purity, singing everything with the same attitude, lacking the morbidity and expressivity which a similar role inevitably demands. High notes were often too open, from the austere “Sediziose voci”. She did much better in the middle register and the pianissimi, showing a timbre capable of incredibly touching movements in much different roles ranging from Mimì to the heartfelt Liù in La Scala’s recent Turandot)Veronica Simeoni was a splendid virginal Adalgisa on stage, an authentic and convincing actress, perfectly immersed in her role. However, her voice was heavy and reminded one more of a Santuzza than the levity of Adalgisa’s role.

Maria Agresta (Norma) and Veronica Simeoni (Adalgisa) © Ramella & Giannese | Teatro Regio di Torino
Maria Agresta (Norma) and Veronica Simeoni (Adalgisa)
© Ramella & Giannese | Teatro Regio di Torino

Norma, La bohème, La traviata and Il barbiere di Siviglia are the four evergreen Italian operas chosen by the Teatro Regio to participate in Milan and Turin's Expo 2015. I did not have chance to see the other operas performed, but this Norma unfortunately missed the opportunity of bringing a bigger audience to the theatre and showcasing the vastness of Italian opera.