Norma is famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) for its demanding roles for soprano and tenor, so it is a very difficult opera to sing, as well as to stage. Ancient Gaul's woods, the Druids’ rites and the conspiracy against oppressive Romans are the quite obvious framework of Bellini's masterpiece. But there is much more to be elicited from it. In this new production for the Rhegium Opera Music Festival in Reggio Calabria, for example, the Gauls’ rebellion was kept in the background by the director Renato Bonajuto, as he was more concentrated on the intimate aspects of the opera.

Marily Santoro (Norma) © Antonio Sollazzo
Marily Santoro (Norma)
© Antonio Sollazzo

Bonajuto accomplished every specification of the libretto, making it historically and dramatically consistent, with Gauls and Romans wandering in video-projected woods in period costume. But, at the same time, the director was able to find a way to make it a rather genuine story about two strong women, loyal to each other even if they are both in love for the same, rather mediocre man. Bonajuto’s staging had a visual honesty that made the plot credible and let the opera move effortlessly towards its tragic end.

The title role, one of the trickiest in the entire repertory, was sung by Marily Santoro, who was playing “at home”, as she is from Reggio Calabria. This may have emotionally affected her performance at the beginning, as she started off by offering only an acceptable performance of “Casta Diva”; however, in the following scenes, her confidence and control of voice grew, allowing her to show her vocal and dramatic intensity.

Francesca Romana Tiddi (Adalgisa) and Davide Ryu (Pollione) © Antonio Sollazzo
Francesca Romana Tiddi (Adalgisa) and Davide Ryu (Pollione)
© Antonio Sollazzo

Francesca Romana Tiddi, as the innocent and faithful Adalgisa, sang remarkably well from her very first interchange with Pollione, showing tender passion with pure and warm melodic lines, clear phrasing and credible acting. Her performance in the duets with Norma was outstanding, too, as when she confesses to Norma that she is in love with a Roman, not to speak of the caring affection she communicated later in “Mira, o Norma”, which was undoubtedly the emotional climax of the staging.

Korean tenor Davide Ryu burst onto the stage with all the energy a Roman officer and commander should have, convinced of his own right and ability to control any situation. He confesses to his friend Flavio that he feels guilty for being unfaithful to Norma as he is attracted to Adalgisa and, becoming more and more conceited, with “Me protegge, me difende”, he launches into a sort of manifesto of the supremacy of the Roman civilization which allows him to behave like he wants. Ryu, who displayed a Pollione both arrogant and vulnerable, has quite an attractive voice, even though he lacks some refined phrasing.

<i>Norma</i>, Act 2 finale © Antonio Sollazzo
Norma, Act 2 finale
© Antonio Sollazzo

Quite the same could be said about the Bulgarian bass Evgeniy Stanimirov who, as Norma’s father Oroveso, sang and acted with would-be hieratic boldness from his entrance, attempting to project authority and leadership in a very energetic bass voice, with some flaws in the clarity of diction. The supporting cast was completed by Stefania Campicelli, who sang a very notable Clotilde, Norma’s devoted maid, and Nino Mauceri, as Pollione’s friend, Flavio.

Viliana Valtcheva’s conducting was precise and meticulous, as for details and dynamics. Her reading was more magniloquent than one expects in a modern rendition of Bellini's masterpiece, choosing to emphasise the instrumental bombast rather than to create an emotional empathy with the singers in a pensive and rarefied aura. Nonetheless, the final result was highly appreciated by the audience, also thanks to the outstanding performance offered as usual by the Coro Lirico Francesco Cilea, prepared by Bruno Tirotta.

***11