I owe my love to vocal music to one singer – Margaret Price. And my gratitude for her is neverending. It is very difficult for me not to buy a disc where she is featured, even in a minor part. She is the kind of singer who treats every note as if the whole score depended on it, and that is why no opportunity to listen to her singing is a waste of time: there is always riches of musical and poetic insight in reserve. That is why reading an interview of hers in which she stated that Norma was the role in which she was less satisfied with her results made me curious for life. This curiosity has been satisfied with an in-house recording from the Opernhaus Zürich in 1979.
Bellini’s Norma is of course a fearsome role and it is wiser to be careful than overconfident. In 1979, Price was in her best shape and even if – predictably – Bello a me ritorna and In mia man take her to her limits, her singing is always confident, expressive and beautiful. I don’t think it is exaggerated to say that her creamy soprano is the most beautiful I have ever heard in this part. Although she more than copes with the florid writing and long tessitura, her main virtue her classical approach to the role. I am trying to avoid the word “Mozartian”, because many will take this in the wrong way. If you persist in the mistaken of considering Mozartian singing something small-scaled, dispeptic and sanitized, then forget I wrote that. What I mean is the instrumentally sculpted phrasing, the precise combination of dramatic intention and musical expression, the nobility of tone – in this sense Margaret Price’s Norma is unique and she should be proud of it. This is not a verbally specific and grand-scale performance such as Callas’s or Scotto’s, but if you are curious to sample a Grisi-bound perspective to the title role, you should give it a chance.
In this performance, Price is ideally partnered by Agnes Baltsa’s Adalgisa. Her quasi-soprano mezzo was then taylor-made for this role. She is comfortable with the coloratura and her voice blends beautifully with her Norma’s. Bruno Prevedì is a solid Pollione, if not particularly imaginative and Matti Salminen’s Wagnerian bass makes Oroveso sound particularly “barbarian”. In any case, he was in very good voice. Nello Santi is less bureaucratic than expected and shows some interesting ideas that never put his cast in difficult situations. I found the accelerando finale ultimo particularly effective. It is a pity that the recorded sound is atrocious. The tape-recorded was obviously on the lap of someone in the audience, but the real bad news is that the microphone cannot resist loud dynamics involving more than one singer and the orchestra.