In collaboration with Giovanni Antonini, Riccardo Minasi and Maurizio Biondi, Cecilia Bartoli restores the sound and spirit of Norma in a landmark Decca recording based on the opera’s original sources. Cecilia Bartoli leads a fabulous cast in Decca’s groundbreaking new recording, which presents Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma in a form that is complete with the exquisite mix of vocal and instrumental colours that Bellini intended for his ‘tragic opera’.
“If we weep from emotion on hearing it, it’s nothing to be ashamed of” Richard Wagner on Bellini’s most famous opera Norma, the most successful work by the last and greatest composer of bel canto. This new production of Norma, directed by Grammy Award-nominated opera, theatre and film director Kevin Newbury and starring Sondra Radvanovsky as a “powerful, elegant” Norma (New York Times) and Gregory Kunde as Pollione, is “something very special. The word ‘historic’ is used perhaps a little too often but tonight there really is no other adjective to describe the sensational performances offered to us by Sondra Radvanovsky and Gregory unde.” (operatraveller.com)
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I believe this is the only note-complete performance of this opera, and furthermore, the only one that is sung in all of the original keys (in almost every other recording "Casta diva" and the duets are transposed down). It is a spectacular example of bel canto. Recorded in 1964, Joan Sutherland was at her peak, exhibiting fearless, beautiful singing, thoroughly accurate in fiorature and breath control, and, for Sutherland, dramatically telling. Her usually dreadful diction is somewhat better than elsewhere, and she presents Norma's unhappiness and acceptance of her fate honestly. She's not as good when she must express anger, but she tries very hard, and in the face of such gorgeous singing, one barely minds. Of course she never comes near Callas in psychological depth, but why bother bringing that up? –Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com.