In view of Violeta Urmana’s debatable success in Verdi, one would tend to dismiss her incursion in bel canto without even hearing a note of it. Nevertheless, her Adalgisa to Nelly Miricioiu’s Norma in Amsterdam back in 1999 was a most satisfying performance. Of course, the title role in the opera is a far more fearsome enterprise.
Before I miss the attention of nay-sayers, I will go to the heart of the matter: Norma is not a role that naturally suits Violeta Urmana’s voice. I am not even entirely convinced that it suits her temper either, but – and this is an important “but” – her stab at it deserves praise nonetheless and speaks favorably to her status as a leading singer in her generation. This is not a performance that will make into history in any sense and must be seen as an example of this singer’s solid technique, good taste, musicianship and endeavor. In any case, the final results are far more consistent than one has recently heard from singers like Maria Guleghina, Hasmik Papian or Fiorenza Cedolins (to name a few recent broadcasts).
It might sound surprisising that the high tessitura proved to be less challenging to Urmana than what I had imagined. It is true that a couple of exposed acuti sounded either edgy or hard pressed, but one did not have the impression that she would not make it or that she was even getting tired out of the effort of requiring so much so often from her high register. If we keep in mind that her repertoire is that of a dramatic soprano, her fioriture are quite decent. She strays from pitch in the middle of a run now and then, but she was consistently true to tempo – and the conductor never slowed the pace to make things easy for her. When a lighter touch was required, she had her ungainly moments, but mezza voce, even in high notes, posed her no difficulties. As expected the edition had all the adaptations adopted when a singer like this is cast in the main role, including no repeat for Bello, a me ritorna.
In the context of a concert performance, singers tend to concentrate on the vocal aspects, but Urmana could find the necessary theatricality for key moments, although grandeur remained the keynote here. In fact, if I had to single out one quality in her performance, this would be the elegance of her phrasing that brought about a sense of classical poise that fits this repertoire. However, the hallmark aspect of bel canto, the ability to produce the perfect blend of tonal colouring and declamation, eluded her unfortunatey. In this sense, the casting of Sonia Ganassi as Adalgisa was especially telling. Even if her voice has seen more flexible and focused days, her skill in giving life to the text through phrasing was quite admirable, especially in what regards dynamics, inflection and tonal variety.
Korean tenor Francesco Hong’s gave me the impression of trying to be more Italian than Italians themselves. His whole attitude evokes the days of Corelli, del Monaco et al. Fortunately for him, his voice is indeed really Italianate and his Italian is idiomatic. A most pleasant tonal quality, a strong, spontaneous middle register and the potential for some exciting top notes should secure him a sucessful career (in spite of a disadvantageous physique), but his technique is rather irregular and impressive moments (he proved to be dramatically engaged and sometimes even nuanced) are often followed by clumsy ones, not to mention that outdated mannerisms appear now and then. Finally, Carlo Colombara’s bass is authoritative and firm-toned, but his legato leaves a lot to be desired.
The Teatro Real’s chorus offered a very good performance, but Massimo Zanetti is probably the wrong man to conduct the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, whose strings lack tonal richness to start with. As the maestro insisted on fast , percussive sounds, the aural picture seemed brassy and abrupt, missing the necessary warmth, especially in elegiac passages. Although the conductor was keen on precision and faithfulness to dynamic markings, the effect was too short in smoothness and expressive power, suggesting rather a work by Rossini than by Bellini sometimes.