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The recommendations in the thread are solid. The CD with Callas / Stignani / Filippeschi and the DVD with Caballe / Veasey / Vickers are outstanding.

Just to introduce another wonderful Norma, most probably all of you know about the Callas cancellation at Rome, in '58, and her replacement by Anita Cerquetti, that was singing also Norma at the time, at Naples.

There is a recording of this magical evening, with a superb Cerquetti alongside Corelli and Miriam Pirazzini. If you love Norma, most probably you will love this:


On DVD, I will go for one version with the best Norma singing the role today, in my opinion, the greek soprano Dimitra Theodossiou:



 

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The staging is.... well, it's better to watch and then judge. :)

About the musical results, it's indeed a fascinating Norma. I was thrilled when I listened to this, specially the end of the first act. There are some annoying things, like the continuum or the fact that the singers were not fully buying the brother Biondis' approach, but all in all a very interesting experience. Of course the worst was the performance of the brave, young, but desperately inadequate tenor. Let's hear in his place Gregory Kunde, also with Biondi and Europa Galante:


Of course, there have been other bel canto operas performed with period orchestras. A couple of nice ones:



 

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Well, in Bellini's own times, all the tenors were singing in falsettone the high notes. The first Pollione himself, Domenico Donzelli, was using this technique for anything above a G3.

Bellini wanted for the role not Donzelli, but Rubini, only he was not available for the premiere (later, Rubini sang the role at Théâtre des italiens, with Bellini already dead), and he adapted a bit the role to Donzelli's voice.

The voice of Donzelli was rather limited as a coloratura performer. He was the owner of baritonal-like voice, that was singing in full voice up to the high G, and then, using 'falsettone' was able to sing up to a high C (in "Meco all'altar di Venere", Bellini tried to use the capabilities of Donzelli, but he marked the high C as optional, nevertheless).

Of course, we can't know for certain what falsettone was, as of course there are not any recordings from the early 19th century. It was used not in all the tessitura, but only for the high notes. And the note from which it was used was different for each singer. For Rubini himself it was most probably the high C itself, or high B flat.

Also, falsettone was surely a mixed emission, including resonances from the head voice, but also some from the chest voice. In Italian, it has been described as 'pieno con consonanza di testa'. Personally, I don't think it was something fundamentally different (humans being humans in the 19th century, too) to what we can hear sometimes in the recordings of Gigli, or David Devriès.

The feared C4 in Pollione's cavatina, in the repetition of 'sensi':

Meco all'altar di Venere
era Adalgisa in Roma,
cinta di bende candide,
sparsa di fior la chioma;
udia d'Imene i cantici,
vedea fumar gl'incensi,
eran rapiti i sensi
di voluttade e amor


Has been handled in different ways: just singing the C4, not singing the C4, produce the C4 in 'voluttade', because it' easier than giving the high note on the 'i',... All of them were approved by Bellini himself before his death.

I do prefer to go for the C4, but it's not something essential. It's more important to be able to read into the score and the character. Carlo Bergonzi never sang the C4, but was a great Pollione.
 

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Thank you, I finally understand, why they sometimes change the word order !

Do you have any insight, why so many tenors suffer at "la prima fiamma" in the initial recitative - dialogue with Flavio ? It is my private sadistic pleasure to go check that part, when new Norma turns up on youtube.
Not sure what you mean by "suffer".

'Svanir le voci' is an accompanied recitative in G minor, that demand suppleness and expresiveness from the tenor singing Pollione, but technically it's not that difficult to manage. In fact, 'fiamma' must be sung exactly as 'spense'. There is a small jump between 'spen_ta' and the initial 'la', but nothing to write home about.

If you tell me one specific example, will share with you my impressions.
 
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