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Dallas Opera

In Review Dallas Norma lg 717
Elza van den Heever and Marina Costa-Jackson, Norma and Adalgisa in Dallas
© Karen Almond, Dallas Opera

DALLAS OPERA opened a surprisingly dynamic production of Nic Muni’s Norma on April 21. The production, originally staged at Cincinnati Opera in 2003, succeeded in large part due to the musical and dramatic nuance contributed by all parties involved, especially the singers in the leading roles—Elza van den Heever (Norma), Yonghoon Lee (Pollione), Marina Costa-Jackson (Adalgisa) and Christian Van Horn (Oroveso). 

Van den Heever demonstrated the control and agility needed for “Casta diva” and delivered a truly impressive overall performance. The South African soprano is a veteran of the opera stage, and Costa-Jackson is a rising star—perfect real-life personas to revive the roles of Norma and Adalgisa. Both Lee and Costa-Jackson began the opera with almost shocking energy, adding a suspenseful meta-plot about whether the two could maintain such force to the very end. After Costa-Jackson displayed her indisputable power in the Act I duet with Lee, van den Heever sounded (appropriately) like an echo of her fiery young counterpart. But by the time the curtain closed on Act I, van den Heever’s soprano had opened up; she sounded even more impassioned during Act II as she debated the fate of her children. The parallel thirds that characterize Bellini’s stunning soprano duets belie eighteenth-century conventions normally reserved for lovers; the love between the two female Druids was rendered through the sympathetic juxtaposition of van den Heever’s masterful messa di voce and Costa-Jackson’s more dramatic coloratura. Costa-Jackson’s force gave way in Act II as the sopranos’ roles reversed both dramatically and musically, highlighting Norma’s stoicism and Adalgisa’s despair. Lee’s outstanding declamation and his striking portrayal of Pollione’s frustration completed the love triangle. Each of the three singers’ vocal nuance convincingly conveyed their characters’ love for the other two. The volatile emotions of the central trio were balanced by the steadfast, constant quality of Van Horn’s virile Oroveso. 

Conductor Emmanuel Villaume gave appropriate support to his singers but still highlighted pleasing instrumental details, such as the delicate harp lines in the opening sinfonia. The chorus, directed by Alexander Rom, created a sense of action and urgency. Offstage chorus, percussion and horns were dramatically effective, and an emphasis on the recurring triplet arpeggios in the strings—from “Casta diva” to “Ah del Tebro”—enhanced the work’s musical unity. Villaume’s sensitivity allowed the real star of the Dallas production—the love triangle—to shine. It was fitting that in the final scene, Adalgisa, almost unnoticed, committed suicide downstage as Norma and Pollione walked into the funeral pyre. The triangle remained complete and gut-wrenching to the very end of the action.  —Rebecca Dowd Geoffroy-Schwinden 


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