Posts Tagged ‘Sondra Radvanovsky’

Is the sacrificial bull in Norma meta-symbolizing a Texas Barbecue or Merrill Lynch?

October 6, 2016

This season at the Canadian Opera Company opens tonight with Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma. As I followed the surtitles and unfolding of the story on the stage during the dress rehearsal, the following statement of the director Kevin Newbury notes in the libretto reverberated in my mind: “ Although we have set the production in a mythic, Game of Thrones –inspired milieu, Norma feels very contemporary to me.”

Unfortunately it does not appear that Mr. Newbury’s feelings about contemporariness of Norma were communicated to the other members of his team, and Mr. Newbury missed this opportunity to share how exactly does the contemporariness of Norma feel to him. The set designer David Korins and the costume designer Jessica Jahn have collaborated in several projects with Mr. Newbury in the past. They both have documented their creative achievements on their web sites demonstrating sensible approach to the marketing of their accomplishments and skills. What is missing, however, is the artistic vision. The invisible unifying net that ties the parts together is the greatest shortcoming of this production.  So the unanswered question remains open to the spectators and listeners: where and how is the story of Norma reflected in today’s world?

Here is a possible angle that may reveal something about Norma and its contemporariness.  Read it before the curtain opens and follow the surtitles with the following imagery in your mind while carefully reading the surtitles and lay back to surrender to superb singing of Sondra Radvanovsky, Russell Thomas, Isabel Leonard, Dimitry Ivashchenko, Aviva Fortunata and Charles Sy.

Instead of Druid forest picture a forest of identical tombstones, such as those seen in military cemeteries. Arlington cemetery is a good example of such a cemetery. Imagine the characters of this opera in the renown characteristic images and outfits of the following personalities:


Norma:          Angela Merkel

Pollione:        Uncle Sam

Adalgisa:       Anonymous Arabian Princess

Oroveso:       Georg Soros

Clotilde:       Christine Lagarde pretending to be Federica Mogherini

Flavio:         Jens Stoltenberg


Norma’s and Pollione’s children: a boy wearing folk German short pants  and baseball game-warmer jacket and a cap with a global corporate logo, and a girl dressed in burkini like outfit and a Muslim style head scarf holding a blood stained doll.

Druids are European pro and contra immigrant demonstrators. The drama takes place in the suburbs of Calais jungle and/or European coastal points of arrival of Syrian refugees. Follow this cast throughout the opera or vary it to your liking and be surprised how contemporary Norma really is. Make no mistake that the aria Casta diva is a prayer to a deity of the Moon.

Determine whether the giant sacrificial bull in the final scene is a symbol of Merrill Lynch or a Texas barbecue and argue your choice with your friends.

P.S. Those in contact with Mr. Stephen Lord, the Norma’s  conductor should advise Mr. Lord that it is a silly  attempt to fight Sondra Rodvanovsky’s voice projecting over the orchestra. The audience may report hearing injuries. And with today’s ever novel  sources of liability. it is better not to engage in a literal game of decibels.

Aida, a story of war and peace

October 13, 2010

The vocal aspect of the Toronto 2010 Aida has been received with acclaim. No word of praise was spared for Sondra Radvanovsky as Aida, Rosario La Spina as Radames, Jill Grove as Amneris, Scott Hendricks as Amonasro, Phillip Ens as Ramfis, to mention only the main roles, and rightly so. I endorse them all wholeheartedly. After hearing Johannes Debus conducting the War and Peace and the Flying Dutchman here in Toronto, I recognize his firm, crisp and clean sound of orchestra with a distinct and developed sense of a moment for absolute and sudden silence, which adds so much to the dramatic and dynamic value. Both the vocal and instrumental sides of this Aida display the first-class musicianship any opera house can be proud of.

This Aida is faithful to the original score (I have read somewhere that the prelude was not included in the past in many productions, whereas this one starts with the prelude) and even Verdi’s original stage notes for Act Four were observed. There is, though, one surprise for the viewers. It does not happen in the “time of the Pharaohs” but is rather transposed to the context of the 60’s.

Unfortunately for Toronto, grave words were written in the media against this Aida for being set in a different context. Some members of the public were so aggravated that they went into tantrums uttering threats to withdraw their financial support if the Canadian Opera Company continues to…well, more or less… fail to put plywood pyramids on the stage and show Egyptian military that do not wear their combat skirts and sandals.

It strikes me that the story of Aida is not at all about Egypt or the Pharaohs, pyramids or elephants. It is about human beings and their inability to accept frustration of the heart’s desire without turning treacherous, envious, evil, and in the extreme, betraying military secrets. This opera too has at its core a spiritual conundrum for every human being who encounters such frustration that has no proper resolution in his or her life. The last words sung in this opera are: peace, peace, peace. Underneath the main plot line of forbidden and unrequited love is the second line of narration, which was depicted with fine sensibility and relates to the evils of violence and war. Profoundly symbolic was Danse Macabre, which depicted in only a few minutes the entire chronology of the war story with summary executions, vulturine, marauding and desensitized, victorious bacchanals, followed by the decoration for merit and the rise of hubris which burns everything sacred and virtuous in man. It appeared to me that only those who have first-hand experience of their home’s  being devastated by war can have such a clear understanding of the cycles of war on human nature.  For the masterful choreography, set design and direction the names of Ms. Laїla Diallo, Ms. Hildegard Bechtler and Mr. Tim Albery respectively ought to stand out in bold. 

Radames, an Egyptian army soldier, believes that the way to have his forbidden love with Aida, the enslaved princess of a hostile-country, is through rising in rank in his army to the commander of its troops in the war against Aida’s homeland. Amneris the Egyptian princess is in love with Radames and envies Aida’s love for him. Aida’s father takes advantage of her love for the officer of the hostile army for his own military plans. Aida, torn apart between irreconcilable loyalties, seduces her beloved into committing treason by negligence. Radames feels that he cannot defend his betrayal. He accepts his responsibility and chooses death. With him dies Aida while Amneris prays for peace.

While the first three acts were carrying the narrative riches of this multilayered story, the last two deliver dramatic emotions of loss and suffering.


The beauty of this Aida lies not only in its originality to depict a hall of the Egyptian king in Memphis as the situation room of a cabinet facing an impending act of war, or a private chambers of Princess Amneris, which includes a view of her walk-in closet, but also in the coherence and clarity of the new narrative. The perfectly intertwined choreography includes not only dances but the stage movements in general, behind a superb orchestral and vocal foreground. For the most part the costumes look fresh and original. My only doubt concerns Aida’s costume, which, although probably adequate for a POW, is to my taste an overstatement in humility. A slight alteration adjusted to flatter the physique of the singer (after all she is a princess and a beauty) may bring surprising improvement. The staging of this Aida contemplated many small details of scene movements and lighting, creating a very tightly knit gesamtkunstwerk, yet not crossing the fine line into overkill.

Oops, almost committed the injustice of not mentioning the superb sound of the chorus.

If this Aida is not captured on DVD it is going to be a tragic mistake.