- Norma, opera
Performed on early 19th century instruments and presented with brisk tempos, bright tone colors, and a lean ensemble sound, this 2013 Decca recording of Vincenzo Bellini's tragic opera "Norma" strives to re-create the authentic vocal style and instrumental sonorities that would have been heard at its premiere. This reading is based on a critical study of the manuscript and other sources by Maurizio Biondi and Riccardo Minasi. To the extent that Cecilia Bartoli is able to re-create the historical role of Norma and remove the modern associations that came with time (especially from the 20th century performances by Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, and Montserrat Caballé), she impresses with a lighter voiced and agile heroine who is wholly believable in this highly florid bel canto role. Bartoli is joined by Sumi Jo as Adalgisa, John Osborn as Pollione, and Michele Pertusi as Oroveso, and this cast was chosen to match their vocal qualities and to create expressive balance. The Orchestra La Scintilla is conducted by Giovanni Antonini, who communicates a lively and sometimes pugnacious interpretation of the score, notably in the incisive playing of the winds and timpani. While there is much to praise in this recording, purists may raise an eyebrow over the lowered pitch of the entire opera, tuned to A430. Furthermore, they may be disturbed by the unexpected modulation at the opening of "Casta diva" and myriad embellishments in its second verse, where Bartoli imitates the dazzling effects that were expected of a singer in Bellini's day. However, a real drawback is the sound of the recording, which was made in a church, necessitating extremely close microphone placement and audio enhancements that sound artificially mixed. Even so, considering the merits of Bartoli's bold reassessment of this time-honored role, and the complete rethinking of performance practices to bring them in line with the latest scholarship, this recording deserves a serious hearing, even if it doesn't win over all traditionalists or replace cherished performances from the past.