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L.A. Opera's New 'Norma' Still Offers Fine Night of Song

OPERA REVIEW

September 20, 1996|MARK SWED | TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

The stars--soprano Jane Eaglen and conductor Placido Domingo--left the cast of L.A. Opera's "Norma" Wednesday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. There were some differences in dramatic focus with Sally Wolf in the title role and with William Vendice, the chorus master, conducting. But the main attraction of the new production of Bellini's opera remains intact: It is still a glorious night of singing.

Wolf, as the Druid priestess who falls disastrously in love with her Roman enemy, emphasizes Norma's tenderness and vulnerability rather than her imperiousness. Less commanding of voice and stage presence than Eaglen, she compensates for her lack of intensity with a lyric singing that is, perhaps, truer to the bel canto ideal of seamlessness. And those heavenly duets between Norma and her rival Adalgisa, sung once more with robust grandeur by mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer, remain showstoppers.

Vendice oversaw a finely etched and carefully paced performance, achieving rich, glowing orchestral tone, preferring to shy away from Domingo's more dramatically propulsive approach.

As for Jose Cura, the Argentine tenor singing the less important role of Pollione, the Roman proconsul who spurns Norma for Adalgisa, word of him has traveled quickly. A magnificent singer, he is now the undisputed star of the show, and he and the audience seem to know it. Acting still with great confidence Wednesday, he did, however, reveal a bit more of the peacock than he had on opening night, though most of it was fortunately reserved for body-building profiles at the curtain calls.

* "Norma," L.A. Opera, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Saturday, 7:30 p.m. $23-$130. (213) 365-3500.

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