|Giuditta Pasta 1797-1865|
Getting ready to produce a slew of radio shows including a writer's round table and a chat show this Friday about summer day trips to museums (like I would know), I was pleased when the mail brought my Father's Day present, the new recording of Bellini's Norma with Cecilia Bartoli.. Loud is the gnashing of teeth among the informed over a lyric mezzo attacking this opera. They forget, Giuditta Pasta, the first Norma, was herself probably a lyric mezzo. Descriptions of her singing-she died 150 years ago-note a shrill and incomplete technique, many notes missing-especially in the middle of the voice-and an astonishing musicianship and presence. Bartoli's voice is lovely and complete. No problems. She does not sing Norma-as-Amazon but Norma, suffering mother and discarded wife. So far, tenor John Osborn is too soft grained for my idea of Pollione. But the recording engineers didn't ask me for ideas, now did they?
I guess I digressed, huh?
Last night. First night in the hall. We had our indispensable pianist making music on an electric keyboard. He was sweet and firm with out Gherardino leading me to think that his future Father's Days will be a love fest.Our three pianists hear things in this score I've never imagined, and I'm old enough to be-well, their fathers.
(I need to keep Gherardino occupied on stage)
We had a carpet, a couch, nice stage dressing, some furniture set up by 7 p.m. when the onstage festivities began. I have almost no aesthetic sense. I drive a shit box car and live in thrift shop clothes. I've worn the same coat for thirty years. I could buy a new coat ad better clothes. Am I naked? No. (God is merciful) With the money I save I can buy Cecilia Bartoli in Norma. That said, I'm not one to judge the look of the sets and props. All seemed attractive and functional. There were some inevitable traffic jams onstage. Even with much more space than in rehearsal, the tendency is still to bunch up.That will pass.
Spinellocchio's sweet bumbling was a nice surprise and a job well done. I need to make better use of Nella and Ciesca-both great looking and sounding women.
I can't explain to the cast how to really react to one another without them clearly understanding the words being sung to them and the responses Puccini/Forzano has them deliver. In this opera it is more important to be present when you have nothing to sing. Edward Downes told me that Callas was impressive while singing but incredible when onstage listening and watching.
Simone is an inventive fellow coming up with some good stage business and Zita has the Callas message pretty down. I love that, when an artist takes the role and the direction and then goes. That, plus listening and watching in character is what separates the singers from the artists.That and coloring the words. One of my favorite examples of immediately setting a mood with a few notes comes from Lotte Lehmann's performance of Seit ich ihn gesehn, the first lied in Schumann's Fraunenliebe und-leben
She creates a mood, the wonder of a young woman in love for the first time, just with the first intake of breath. We aren't used to this level of personal communication today. We've all been diluted by too much information...things that matter are harder to discern. Schumann got it and so did Lehmann. The Schicchi cast is getting there,.