„Norma“ in Gelsenkirchen
The Musiktheater im Revier Gelsenkirchen is the first opera house to stage Bellini’s masterpiece Norma using the new Bärenreiter edition by Maurizio Biondi and Riccardo Minasi, following on from Cecilia Bartoli’s Salzburg Festival production. The director is Elisabeth Stöppler, and conductor is Valtteri Rauhalammi, to be followed by Rasmus Baumann in later performances. The new production of Norma receives its first performance on 5 March 2016.
When Cecilia Bartoli made her debut in the role of Norma in 2010 in the Konzerthaus Dortmund conducted by Thomas Hengelbrock, it was a risk, but one which turned out as a triumphant success. Not only the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ran this as a headline story, the press in general was euphoric. Shortly, the Salzburg audience will also thrill to her performance of Norma. During Cecilia Bartoli’s European tour 2016 with I Barrocchisti and conductor Diego Fasolis (Opéra Monte Carlo, Venue Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées Paris, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden) and on 5 March 2016, when the curtain goes up in the Musiktheater im Revier Gelsenkirchen on Elisabeth Stöppler’s new production, they will be using the new edition of the full score, vocal score and parts just published by Bärenreiter-Verlag.
The risk lies partly in the vocal scoring for the original mezzo-soprano, which became unusual after Maria Callas’s legendary performance. But Giuditta Pasta, the singer at the premiere in 1831 at La Scala Milan was – reflecting the more mature Norma – a mezzo-soprano, whilst the younger Adalgisa was originally a high soprano (after Callas’s interpretation it became the practice for the role of Adalgisa to be sung by a mezzo-soprano). But it’s not only in this respect that the sound of a performance using the new edition will amaze, as can also be heard on the 2013 CD with the orchestra La Scintilla under Giovanni Antonini. In the new score, freed of incorrect additions, retouches and non-original dynamics, we can already superficially see the ‘cleaner’ sound. It is richer in contrasts, more expressive, lighter. Whilst Callas’s dramatic portrayal in the 1950s brought with it a revival of bel canto singing techniques, Cecilia Bartoli will now be identified with a new evaluation of the sources and a historical awareness about this key music-historical work.
The work quickly became widely established. After a critical examination of all the contemporary sources of this work, the autograph manuscript served as the main source for the new full score; the editors also consulted copies where the involvement of the composer Vincenzo Bellini is certain, as well as the earliest published vocal scores and the few surviving orchestral parts. The first edition of the full score is actually less significant, for it is full of mistakes and highly unreliable. The fundamental differences compared with the currently-available edition are:
Cavatina “Casta Diva” (Atto I): in the manuscript the aria is in the original key of G major. Possibly Bellini agreed to a transposition into F major during rehearsals at La Scala to suit the needs of Giuditta Pasta, but the fact that he held firm in principle to the version in G major is shown by later corrections and interventions in this version. The new edition also contains the transposed version, including the requisite transitional passages, in an Appendix.
Duetto Norma – Adalgisa, Cabaletta “Ah sì, fa core” (Atto I): this cabaletta originally had three verses, the last of which was initially cut, but finally re-introduced.
Terzetto – Stretta “Vanne, sì, mi lascia indegno” (Atto I): the final version comprises 91 bars, but an earlier version 131 bars long also exists which contains an extra verse for Adalgisa but not the chorus at the end of the number. This musically interesting, alternative early version was not, however, in Bellini’s hand, but survives in a reliable source from Bellini’s friend Francesco Florimo, and has therefore been included in the Appendix of the new edition.
Finale – Chorus “Guerra, guerra!” (Atto I): originally the section in A minor was followed by a coda in A major, which does not survive in the autograph manuscript, but in a Milan copy, and contains all the texts from Romani’s source. The version reproduced in the Appendix contains an alternative cut autograph version of this passage with a repetition to another text.
Finale – Coro “Vanne al rogo” (Atto II): here the new edition follows the autograph and offers a clearer and more effective declamation. The origin of the version in the old edition remains unclear; perhaps a copyist simply wrote it out incorrectly, as happened in numerous other places.
We can only speculate as to why so many details of Bellini’s brilliant, highly complex manuscript did not find their way into the first edition and why so many original variant readings remain buried to the present day: unusual harmonic and contrapuntal details have been smoothed over, instrumental mixtures in the orchestration adapted to fit the conventions of the time, rhythmic subtleties and dissonances in the vocal lines avoided, changes from major to minor key simply cancelled out ... With this edition a reliable basis for this magical and dramatically extremely powerful key work of the Italian belcanto is finally available.
(from: [t]akte 2 / 2015)