Jamie Barton’s Adalgisa provides the sparks in Met’s second-cast “Norma”
A cast change that offered Angela Meade and Jamie Barton Thursday night proved that this fall’s production of Bellini’s Norma at the Metropolitan Opera has been a showcase for American talent. Earlier in the run Sondra Radvanovsky left her indelible mark on the role of the Druid priestess, a pinnacle of dramatic bel canto vocalism. Meade’s highly anticipated assumption of the role follows several concert performances and a recent run at the Washington National Opera.
Meade’s bel canto credentials are impeccable, where her creamy legato enlivens a rich, even and flexible voice. Norma’s entrance aria, “Casta diva” began as a smoky, internalized invocation, and Meade challenged conductor Riccardo Frizza with drawn-out climactic phrases that showcased masterful breath control and musical poise. In recitatives and in the climactic “In mia man alfin tu sei,” the soprano’s rich, firm middle voice was on display, and a blazing high D capped the great trio finale to Act One.
Where Meade still frustrates is in her laid-back manner, which registers less as composure than as cool indifference. She shows little dramatic imagination or emotional investment, relying instead on sudden pianissimo high notes and other vocal effects; apart from these moments, the intense scene of Norma’s contemplated murder of her own children fell flat.
Tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko displayed more vocal subtlety than on opening night, but he avoided the high Cs in Pollione’s “Meco all’altar di Venere” and often veered sharp. Antonenko is a sensitive colleague, however, and his dramatic commitment in the final scene brought out some much-needed emotion from Meade. In his Met debut, Ukranian bass Ievgen Orlov displayed a dark, resonant voice with easy carrying power and a handsome sheen in the role of Oroveso.
But the night belonged to Jamie Barton, recent winner of Cardiff’s Singer of the World competition, and a sensitive, attentive artist with a stunning and flexible sound. As the guilt-ridden, errant young priestess Adalgisa, Barton carved her short opening arioso and prayer with detail and genuine presence. She brought appropriate delicacy to the duet with her secret lover Pollione, and was particularly impressive in the duets with Meade, leading into “Ah! Rimembranza” with a hypnotic description of Adalgisa’s first glimpse of Pollione. Similarly, in the second act’s “Mira, o Norma,” Barton did all the work, out-singing and out-acting Meade with her genuine exuberance, textual detail, and full-throated high C’s.
John Copley’s somber 2001 production does little harm, while Frizza’s swift, taut reading of the overture carried over into a well-paced and fluid account of Bellini’s masterpiece.
There are two more Norma performances, with Angela Meade and Jamie Barton on October 28th and Sondra Radvanovsky and Kate Aldrich on November 1st. Metoperafamily.org