Last Saturday we went to see Northern Opera’s production of Norma at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle. I have to admit that the reason for going was just for the one lovely aria I knew, (Casta diva) performed memorably by Maria Callas, and because years ago I’d been intrigued and amazed by Bellini’s house in Catania.
The performance turned out to be one of those thoroughy ridiculous stories which often characterise opera. We had druidic people at war with Romans, made the more incredible by dressing them all in 19th century costume. (Threats with axes and spears then seem ludicrous). The set, which also involved us in an unwilling suspension of disbelief, featured a huge log, raised and lowered according to whether the singers were supposed to mount it or worship it.
But the music and the singing were wonderful. The chorus of Opera North is always good, but they excelled themselves in this production. As for Annemarie Kremer, the Dutch singer who played the very demanding title role, she sang so thrillingly, and with such force and passion, I decided that she equalled in my estimation Callas’s performances. A compliment indeed. And her voice was balanced so well with Keri Alkema’s (Adalgisa) that the duets were very moving.
To my surprise, I ended up in the interval chatting to Nick Brown M.P. who’s amazingly knowledgeable about opera. This just added to the great occasion.
However, I have to admit finally that for me, I still think Bellini’s tragic opera has only one real memorable tune!