Sondra Ravanovsky as Norma and Isabel Leonard as Adalgisa with Norma's children in the Canadian Opera Company production of Norma, 2016

Photo credit: Michael Cooper

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON October 19th 2016

As Newbury has written, the opera concerned various levels of sacrifice. By including the wonderful images of Druid mythology in the set designs of David Korins, the story of the opera took on a depth of meaning. The huge barn-like door and the pillars of the temple gave a sense of scope to the sets. In the absence of any real knowledge about Druid life, the mythical-like costumes by Jessica Hahn were completely effective.

The opera runs until November 5th at the Four Seasons Centre. Radvanovsky ‘s final performance will be on October 21st. Alternating in the title role is South African soprano Elsa van den Heever. Also playing concurrently is Handel’s opera Ariodante.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma in  the Canadian Opera Company production of  Norma 2016 
Photo Credit: Michael Cooper ​

The COC may have built the production around Radvanovsky, but its success came as a result of a stellar cast all ‘round that included other Met singers. Tenor Russell Thomas, who we last heard here in Carmen this past spring, was clear and powerful in his role as ‘Pollione’. Mezzo-Soprano Isabel Leonard was magnificent in her role as ‘Adalgisa’. Her duets with Radvanovsky were perfectly balanced and emotionally gripping. Bass Dimitry Ivashchenko with his deep, rich authoritative voice was perfect for the role of ‘Oroveso’. Canadians Charles Sy, tenor(‘Flavio’) and Aviva Fortunata, soprano(‘Clotilde’) sang and acted their smaller roles effectively. The chorus played a major role in the opera as it portrayed the occupied Gauls preparing to do battle. Chorus Master Sandra Horst had the chorus singing with conviction and clarity.

Stephen Lord conducted the COC Orchestra with precision. He had a crisp style and achieved a good sense of balance between the orchestra and singers. Within that balance was a wonderful clarity from each of the sections. The flute solo in the ‘Casta Diva’ aria and the cello line at the opening of Act II were incredibly moving.

The production had the size and scope one could expect from only the world’s major opera houses. Director Kevin Newbury gave the drama a sense of personal tragedy as well as that brought on to a culture through moral decay, something our present day leaders could well keep in mind. He created moments with the children playing with their war toys and in the arms of their mother that were heart-wrenching. He kept the opera from becoming static in the extended musical moments and made great use of the chorus both as visual and dramatic participants.

Russell Thomas as Pollione, Sondra Ravanovsky as Norma and Dimitry Ivashchenko as Orosveso in the Canadian Opera Company production of Norma, 2016

Photo credit: Michael Cooper

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Is Sondra Radvanovsky the definitive ‘Norma’ of the 21st century? It would be easy to convince those who were present at the Four Seasons Centre last night in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of the opera by the same name. Her effortless control of the always demanding ‘bel canto’ lines of Bellini’s opera soared with superb musicianship, exquisite tone, flawless technique and drama. When she came out for her curtain-call following the performance, the audience didn’t want to let her go. The opera Norma is a showcase for the title role and Radvanovsky took the opportunity to turn it into another argument that she is the latest in the string of the great ‘Normas’ of our lifetime.

The American soprano who now calls Canada her home first sang the role at the Teatro Campoamor de Oviedo in the 2011/12 season. Since then, she has performed it at the Met, San Francisco Opera, and the Bavarian State Opera. In January, she will perform it with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and in September 2017, she will open the Metropolitan Opera’s season in the role once again. She has proved herself in many other roles in her illustrious career including more than two hundred performances at the Met alone. Nonetheless, it is hard not to concede that ‘Norma’ may become her legacy. At age forty-seven, Radvansovsky is in the prime of her career and a long time from thinking about legacies.

Sondra Radvanovsky totally convincing in her flawless performance in Norma


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