The Norma debacle at the Metropolitan Opera House has ignited debated whether opera houses should stage such work without a prima donna up to the almost impossible demands made by the title role. This takes us to the question – how often does a theatre has an amazing Norma at its disposal? Many singers have experimented with the role – sometimes to great effect – but left it before it started to take its toil, others have overstayed to their own regret. In any case, considering the interpretative and technical difficulties involved, every good Norma should make into the gramophone. Margaret Price, for example, wasn’t lucky enough to get a decent broadcast and we should thank those half-industrious, half-crazy people who carry a clandestine tape-recorder to the theatre for the memento of her beautiful account of the role.
Fortunately, Nelly Miriciou had a different fate, for a 1999 broadcast of her Norma from Amsterdam is a valuable document of a truly great performance. Although the role is a bit high for her, she is the kind of singer who turns every disadvantage into advantage and creates a three-dimensional role by virtue of technical skill, natural feeling for the words allied to crystalline diction and a really fiery temper. When Adalgisa asks her to depose the celestial authority that surrounds her, for once the listener understands that request, for Miricioiu displays amazing command in public scenes but is also capable of touching tenderness. The long duet with Adalgisa is a perfect exemple. As required, she mellows into intimate melancholy while listening to the young woman’s story, but as soon as she starts to suspect that they are speaking of Pollione, her voice shifts immediately back to her formidable self through tone colouring alone. The closing scene is also original and effective, the keynote being rather worldweariness than regret. Her pleas to her father in favour of her sons show rather spiritual exhaustion than despair.
Miricioiu is brilliantly partnered by Violeta Urmana, a superlative Adalgisa. Her warm sensuous voice was in mint condition and she tackles her division with ease and graciousness and successfully portrays her character’s youth and naiveté. It is a pity that the only remaining great singer in this recording is Wilke Te Broemmelstroete, a particularly noticeable Clotilde. Both Carlo Ventre’s Pollione and Dmitri Kavrakos’s Oroveso are lackadaisical if unobtrosive. Maurizio Barbacini conducts an intense and forward-moving performance and the Dutch orchestra is up to the task.