ROMANS AND DRUIDS IN FLORIDA
Mlada Khudoley in 2016 FGO NORMA Photo©FGO
After a quarter of a century, the Florida Grand Opera presented both in Miami and in Fort Lauderdale, Bellini’s Norma with much success. The production, signed by John Conklin (sets and costumes) and Nic Muni (staging) came from Cincinnati and was simple and functional, one of those that can be easily adapted to any stage; with a minimum of elements and props, Mr. Conklin created, more or less convincingly, a galo-roman atmosphere: constructions that showed the incessant state of war between the Roman invaders and the resistant Druids, stones, an altar and ritual paraphernalia, and a backdrop that, when it was not a merely rocky landscape, was filled by a large circumference used as moon or pyre. In those surroundings, the chorus and the soloists entered and exited the stage in orderly and predictable manner and delivered arias, cabalettas, war-cries, duets of love and solidarity, trios of love and vengeance, imprecations, repentances, all of it before the sublime apocalyptic finale. Mr. Muni felt the necessity of having the onstage presence of Pollione, the two children and Adalgisa even when it was not really called for: the Proconsul attended the Druid rituals (“Casta Diva”) and plays with his children in Norma’s quarters. (Good fathers sometimes make unfaithful lovers!!!) In the last scene, Adalgisa appeared ready to be sacrificed and the two boys witnessed the death of their parents. None of this is disturbing, just gratuitous. Maestro Anthony Barrese’s reading of the score proved his affinity with the bel canto style and, at the same time, his ability to conduct with authority a well-balanced, exciting performance. Barrese also offered a musical novelty: instead of using the traditional “Ah, del Tebro!” we heard the alternative aria for bass and chorus composed by none other than Richard Wagner in 1837. In the fairly long and difficult aria (pastiche), we can easily detect Wagner’s knowledge of this score, for whose melodies he openly confessed great admiration--a true rarity on the part of a composer who usually did not think or speak very highly of the music originating south of the Alps.
The audience was also pleasantly surprised by the homogeneous voices and the strength of the interpretations. Both ladies, Mlada Khudoley (Norma) and Catherine Martin (Adalgisa) sang subtly and with conviction, and managed to keep the rather big volume of their voices under control. For me, the case of Ms. Khudoley, was of particular interest. It often happens that a soprano spinto who sings Aida successfully does not dare take up the role of Norma or, when she does, the enterprise falls short of being impressive. Well, in the case of this Russian soprano, the general rule did not seem to apply. After a performance of Aida which I found correct at best when I saw it recently, her Norma was by far superior; from the very beginning, she showed personality, musicianship and the ability to attack, resolve and control breath and volume, indispensable ingredients for a valid interpretation of the complex character. Pollione is less complex, of course, but it is his behavior that makes him an unsympathetic character an consequently, an often less than gratifying role for the singer to perform; in spite of this, the tenor Giancarlo Monsalve, making his debut here, was received warmly. Physically attractive, he is endowed with a robust, spinto by nature vocal instrument whose strength lies in the middle and high registers. The passage notes that separate these two still need to be worked upon, but the material and the musicianship are there, so that the problem should be solved soon. We need this type of voice and we wish him well in his ascending career. Craig Colclough (Oroveso), Edgar Miguel Abreu (Flavio) and Sarah Payne (Clotilde) completed the efficient cast.