Bulgarian soprano, Sonya Yoncheva, has undertaken Norma early in her (stilly oung) career. Probably earlier than she would have, had Netrebko not cancelled, because the role did not fit her voice anymore. Just like Marguerite, which Yoncheva also took over. But early or not – I suppose this Norma was a chance she just couldn´t miss… In fact, her Norma sounds like a mixture of how Netrebko would have sung it and a copy of many things Callas did in this role – including wobble in the high register (especially the mezza voce and piani) and all. What she really does well is give much importance to good and incisive diction. Yoncheva certainly has guts and gives all she has (and more) to meet the challenge.
A good voice, no arguing about that. It has natural authority, a good colour and certain weight, but the singer lacks real dramatic insight and the required maturity and experience (both as a singer an das an artist) to give the role its full meaning; especially in the last scene. And to tell the truth: there is nothing in Yoncheva´s Norma that you would particularly associate with her and nobody else. No personal stamp. She sings with passion and „slancio“, but with little real intensity which is required in “teneri figli”, for example. Good line, good voice – little real drama. Throughout the opera no holding back, no reserves. Sometimes less would be more: less volume, more intensity To sing a role like this costs and takes its toll– and you can already hear a distinctive beat in the higher middle register and a wobble in the high notes. And that in her mid-Thirties after just about 5-6 years in full career………..
Calleja is starting (or testing) some new roles. Riccardo (Ballo), Roméo and now Pollione. Critics regularly point out the flowing and liquid, even honeyed quality of his voice, his easiness of projection and his excellent legato – which indeed are his great strengths, but especially in the heavier repertory – even more so if you have a voice which is more on the lighter side – that alone is far from enough. Calleja has never been a great actor and a thrilling performer. Yet, that could be well compensated though if you can „act“ with the voice, making a role yours through the singing and the music, achieve the spinto quality not by pushing on the voice, but by accento and incisive diction. But he never has been a notable vocal interpreter either – not in the sense of „creating“ a character and really creeping into it, making it come alive, weighing the words and phrases, using different colours and accentuating the words (apart from very few occasions). One had hoped that this would come with the years, that he would develop and grow as an artist, but – alas – all too little of it. His singing is admiarbly „clean“ and he keeps a very good and reliable vocal line in ensemble scenes, but he has little authority in solo scenes, insignificant phrasing and little incisiveness. Just letting the voice flow and striving for legato. The weak low range (especially noticeable in „In mia man alfin tu sei“), his frequent breathing (two or even three times in a phrase which he should be able to sing without any problem in one breath!), a certain breathy sound in his voice and a tedious habit of cutting off the last notes of a phrase are not good signs for the future.
Sonia Ganassi has made herself a name in the belcanto repertoire – and I never understood why. Of course, she is past her prime, but although you can hear that she has the routine and singing experience, the voice sounds much older than the singer actually is. A singer with so little ability to sustain legato lines in a role, which requires vocal freshness and an excellent vocal line – Adalgisa is a „giovinetta“ after all – is not well cast here. Hardly anything positive can be said of Brindley Sherratt as Oroveso, with the exception of the final low note in „Ah del tebro“. David Junghoon Kim is a solid and good Flavio.
Antonio Pappano basically has the feeling and the knowledge for Bellini´s music, although at times the orchestra sounds too lethargic and just plainly loud where intensity, real „drive“ and „density“ of sound are called for. He often is just savouring the beauty of the music and following its urge instead of being on top of it and in the lead. And as Pappano in essence said on behalf of the opera “if everything works, it´s absolutely unforgettable”. Well – IF…..