Review: Bellini: Norma *****

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Grand Theatre, Leeds

Vocally this new production of Bellini’s Norma is a triumph, the whole cast one of the finest that Opera North has ever assembled, while Christopher Alden’s riveting production updates the action to Europe in the early part of the 19th-century.

Though his action had to circumvent some of the libretto set in pre-Christian times, he finds a sympathetic period when small communities that shared unusual beliefs spring up around the world.

The rather absurd story is of a love triangle, with Norma, the druidess who finds out that her friend and priestess, Adalgisa, is in love with the man by whom she has two children. But it is merely the vehicle for three great singers, Annemarie Kremer having the young attractive appearance for Norma, and the technical resources to carry off the vocal acrobatics with a degree of ease we rarely experience.

Keri Alkema brings a perfect realisation of her rival with the vocal resources to match, their big reconciliation duet is by turn exciting and equally ravishing.

As the adulterer, the Mexican tenor, Luis Chapa, does the best with an unrewarding part, while James Creswell is superb as Norma’s father. At the centre of this fine performance is Oliver von Dohnanyi, an opera conductor of a quality we seldom see.

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