Times Herald-Record • Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Hudson Valley Opera (sic) revives a dynamic ‘Norma’
By James F. Cotter
For the Times Herald-Record
Published: 2:00 AM - 06/10/14
“Norma” by Vincenzo Bellini, first performed in Milan in 1831, represents the height of the bel canto style with its lyrical arias and emotional scenes. With the libretto of Felice Romani, it tells the story of Norma, a Druid high-priestess who falls in love with Pollione, a Roman proconsul in Gaul, and secretly bears him two children. However, he betrays her by attempting to seduce another Druid virgin, Adalgisa, and return with her to Rome. It does not happen because Norma’s father, the arch-druid Oroveso, intervenes and the women assert their own loyalties to one another and to their Druid faith. Norma at the end makes a surprise decision and proves her true nobility.
Hudson Opera Theatre is presenting an engaging and beautifully sung revival of “Norma” at the United Presbyterian Church. Dynamically directed and conducted by Ron De Fesi, the two (here three) act opera receives symbolic staging by Renato Cesarino, with imaginative costumes by C. Clara George. The cast of six sings and acts on a professional level, projecting real emotions and singing their hearts out. The chorus of 22 prepares to oppose the Romans and follow Norma’s changing orders. They are accompanied by a 17-member orchestra that plays with fervor and accuracy under De Fesi’s hands-on leadership.
As Norma, Robin Rubendunst possesses a strong, vibrant and clear soprano voice that hits the high notes with sustained sonority. She sings the famous cavatina “Casta diva” (“Goddess of the Moon”) with a compelling sense of urgency. Her Norma is a divided soul: even while she rallies her followers against Rome she wants to spare her lover. Soprano Korin Kormick as Adalgisa is also conflicted as she tries to resists Pollione’s appeals to leave Gaul. Her dialogue with Norma is full of irony as she confesses her love and wins Norma’s approval until she discloses his identity. Kormick sings with wide range and power, declaring “Mira, O Norma” with passion as she reconciles with her in their choice of friendship over love.
Tenor Argun Tekant is Pollione, who earnestly pleads with Adalgisa in “Vieni in Roma” to join him by going to Rome. He stubbornly refuses to give up his new love when Norma threatens to kill him if he does not. Tekant’s fine tenor blends melodically in separate dialogues with the two women and joins in a dramatic trio as each pleads their case. This opera employs a variety of duets and trios that harmoniously contrast with its extended arias.
As the Druid patriarch and leader Oroveso, Alan Andrews uses his vigorous bass to try to unite his people in revolt, stirring them to a rousing choral anthem, and, later, to dissuade Norma from self-sacrifice. Soprano Natassia Velez plays Norma's confidante Clotilde with sincerity and devotion to her mistress, who seems bent on destroying herself and her children. Completing the cast, tenor Sam Savage is Flavio, a centurion who supports Pollione but attempts from the start to show him how the goddess of love is leading him astray. The ensemble sings with graceful precision and is particularly effective in the final scene.
On June 14, the role of Norma will be sung by soprano Eileen Mackintosh, that of Adalgisa by mezzo-soprano Patrice P. Eaton, and that of Pollione by tenor Justin Scott Randolph. This is an ambitious full-scale production well worth attending.