14 November 2007


Anne Midgette's NYT review of the Met Norma prima is structured, I reckon, around a false dichotomy. I am baffled by her comparison between the performance of one Norma and her handmaiden Adalgisa. Bellini wrote maybe twice the number of bars of music for his Norma; moreover, if it can also be measured, a magnitude wider dramatic range. Midgette herself describes Hasmik Papian's heroic outing on Monday as evoking "an athlete hurling herself repeatedly at the high-jump bar, sometimes dislodging it, sometimes propelling herself over with only micrometers to spare, her whole body wiggling in time to her coloratura." Thus an artist taking on the role of Norma ("one of the toughest in the repertory") assumes a nearly impossible burden: so is it conceivable that perhaps a singer of Dolora Zajick's talents, however vast, may not be able to shine as excellently as Norma as she could as Adalgisa? Apples to oranges; or more accurately, watermelons to champagne grapes. Everyone (including myself) is understandably hysterical about Zajick's brilliant Adalgisa, but let's also be fair to Papian. While I admire Midgette's vigilance, this particular case is not about "opera is drama" vs. "opera is music" at all. (For better examples, might I suggest looking into the careers of singers with prominent boobs and words of impresarios who see dollar signs for tits.)