Norma had the ‘wow factor’

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review: “Norma”, performed by Opera North at the Lowry, Salford Quays.

I HAVE never seen Bellini’s opera Norma before and Christopher Alden’s production for Opera North certainly has an element of the “wow factor”.

The scenery consists of a massive tree trunk that is wound up and down at various junctures of the action. The first act has a real brazier, wood branding and a number of sharp axes and knives. The second act also has some dangerous weapons and some more conflagrations. I hope it had all been passed by health and safety!

But Bellini’s music is marvellous. I only knew the famous Casta Diva aria from a Maria Callas CD, but I was thrilled with several of the duets sung by the Druid priestess Norma (Annemarie Kremer) and the novice Adalgisa (Keri Alkema) and the trios with Pollione, the Roman proconsul in Gaul (Luis Chapa).

Annemarie Kremer’s Casta Diva was a little reserved, but she was sitting in a rickety chair balanced on the tree trunk at the time. As the opera progressed she gains n strength and shows much of the passion of a woman torn apart by love and jealousy.

The Opera North chorus are a good as always. The setting has been moved from Gaul to somewhere vaguely American, possibly Amish, and the Romans are top-hatted city folk. An interesting choice of time and place! In the end it is the powerful music of Bellini that remains in my mind. Alkema has strength and Chapa makes the most of the very unsympathetic role of the perfidious lover but Kremer’s desperation is very moving. Opera North return to the Lowry from May 2nd until the 19th with “Carousel”. That will be an attraction for many, including myself.