Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Great Norma Race

In a world where giving a recital and making a CD means singing everything you can't or wouldn't sing full out in the opera house, "Casta Diva" is king. Well, priestess I guess. Lately many sopranos, and some mezzos, have tried their hand at this extremely difficult aria. And let's face it, some people just aren't cut out for it. Here today we have the gorgeous Ms. Anna Netrebko in a thoroughly despicable rendition of this heavenly aria. The pitch is all over the place, phrasing in non-existent and, well, maybe Bel Canto just isn't her style.
We also have Cecilia Bartoli, the mezzo-soprano, singing this aria. Hm, well there seems to be nothing strange about that so let's proceed.
Let's find out first hand what is wrong with both of these renditions. Nebs is just totally rediculous. I actually had to laugh when I heard it. As much as I like Anna, what is she doing singing Norma???? Of course, every house in the world would crawl around on its hands and knees if she said she wanted to sing Norma somewhere. Her pitch was off, she breathed in very strange places and frankly she sounded like a drunk Dame Joan. Okay, okay, harsh I know, but consider it! Her vowels and her lack of (some) consonants remind us of the lovely Dame. She's only drunk because I'm sure Joan Sutherland wouldn't be caught dead singing the aria like that. Sorry, Nebster, but this was a lost cause.
Ms. Cecilia Bartoli's "Casta Diva" was refreshingly on pitch. The problem was that Cecilia had no idea when the climax of the aria was. She sang every note as if she was singing about paint drying. This might have to do with the fact that (1) she's a mezzo and (2) her voice is the size of my fist. Itty-bitty mezzo voices don't sing "Casta Diva." It just shouldn't happen. Some manager at Decca or wherever I'm sure thought it was a marvelous idea. "What would you like to sing today, Ms. Bartoli?" "Hm, I'm kind of in a Norma mood. Can we do that?" "Of course! Step this way and you'll be singing Casta Diva into the microphone in no time!" Oh, I would have liked to be there for that recording session. I can see Cecilia's face as she's singing it, too. Fun stuff.


Anonymous said...

Norma wasn't conceived for a dramatic soprano...but a light mezzo soprano with a soprano extension (Giuditta Pasta) exactly like Cecilia Bartoli. In fact, Giuditta never sang the aria in the high key.

Cipher said...

A quote from Cecilia herself:

“The work we did for this recording involved autograph scores—the autograph of Norma is in Rome, at the library of the conservatory,” she explains. “ ‘Casta diva’ is a prayer, and the dynamic markings are piano, pianissimo, sotto voce. And since Norma is by Mr. Bellini and not by ‘the tradition,’ I—as an interpreter, as the composer’s servant—simply recorded this aria with a period orchestra and the dynamics that Bellini wrote in his music.”

from TimeOut New York: