Review: Sondra slays in Bellini masterwork Russell Thomas as Pollione and Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma in the COC production of Norma, 2016, photo: Michael Cooper.

Review: Sondra slays in Bellini masterwork

Greg Finney

Hi, Schmop-Tops!

Saturday night saw me all spiffed out and at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, to kick off my viewings of the Canadian Opera Company’s 201617 season.

First on the docket was the bel canto masterpiece, Norma, by Vincenzo Bellini. This is my first time hearing Norma live, and I couldn’t be more chuffed.

The opera tells the tale of the high Druid priestess of Gaul (modern-day western Europe), who sacrifices herself in atonement for consorting with the Roman general, Pollione. In one of the less convoluted opera plots (there are no letters, disguises, or people hiding in closets), we see the fiery passion, the fury, and then then the fall of one of the canon’s strongest female characters. A love-triangle of operatic proportions, a war, and human sacrifice all make for a remarkable night at the opera.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma in the Canadian Opera Company production of Norma, 2016. Photo by Michael Cooper.

The COC Orchestra under Stephen Lord brought Bellini’s somewhat hectic score to life. At times, I felt like the standard crispness from the pit wasn’t as present as usual, but it was replaced by what felt like a synchronicity and a fluidity that brought the work the ability to flex and work and let the singers create some serious magic.

Obviously, Canadian-American soprano sensation Sondra Radvanovsky knocked it out of the park. The instrument is astounding, the acting is on point. Watching Radvanovsky sing this role is guaranteed to remain a highlight of the season, not just for me, but for Toronto as a whole. I could go on and on (and on), but the only way you’re going to understand is really to get your butt down and hear it. I’m glad that when I’m in my 60s, I can say I saw Sondra “La Wowza” Radvanovsky sing Norma.

Playing the Roman general and Norma’s lover, was tenor Russell Thomas, who is fast becoming one of my favourite singers. His big, steely voice shot through the house like a laser hitting a bunch of mirrors. He was a great sonic match for the two ladies, and the instrument was strong and flexible.

l-r: Isabel Leonard as Adalgisa, Russell Thomas as Pollione and Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma in the Canadian Opera Company production of Norma, 2016. Photo: Michael Cooper.

As the novice priestess Adalgisa, who inadvertently steals the heart of Pollione from Norma, Isabel Leonard was unreal. She was refined, elegant, and the voice is one-in-a-million. The role of Adalgisa is unforgiving and incredibly difficult, and Leonard made it look more than easy. It sounded like the role was written for her, so in-depth and flawlessly executed was the delivery.

As Norma’s father Oroveso, bass Dimitry Ivashchenko was a domineering presence with a meaty boom to his voice that worked really well in all his work in front of the COC Chorus. As Pollione’s friend, Flavio, COC Ensemble Studio member Charles Sy sounded great alongside Thomas’s Pollione. As Clotilde, Norma’s confidante, soprano Aviva Fortunata sang beautifully and had the very important duty of taking care of the the two kid supernumeraries - which was likely totally fun backstage.

Dimitry Ivashchenko as Oroveso (centre) and Sondra Radvanovksy as Norma (on platform) in the Canadian Opera Company production of Norma, 2016. Photo by Chris Hutcheson.

The COC Chorus sang extremely well. They nailed the intricacies of the style and nuances in the score, although I felt as though the commitment to a characterization could have used a little extra energy, but when the swelled to a forte with Sondra sailing over them, you just got lost in the beautiful music.

Whenever I meet someone who doesn’t know much (or anything) about opera, I recommend they start with two things: Mozart and bel canto. And I guarantee anyone who was seeing an opera for the first time at Norma, they’re bound to get addicted.

Go. See. This. Show.

P.S. Saturday, October 15th, 2016 will now be known as the day I heard Sondra Radvanovsky sing “Casta Diva”. I cried.

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