14 November 2007

The missing Norma

Sieglinde's been obsessed with Norma since way before she met Hunding. The opera's mythic status in the pantheon of great musical works; a lead who is asked to essentially sing across widely divergent vocal styles (and bake and garden and clean your house too!); a lead who has to withstand withering comparison with the pantheon of past singers who did no wrong; Callas, Callas, Callas; absolutely ravishing duets, contained within a score of unimaginable imagination; its relative rarity of performance. In view of the last point, La Cieca asks for which star this current revival of Norma at the Met was originally intended.

I vaguely remember the time when the first indications of a possible Norma revival were floated in various Met bathrooms. Around the time I began this blog, it's likely that I saw it on Brad Wilber's Sublime Met Futures List (which, by the way, has just been updated, so I suggest you take this afternoon off to mull over your 2008-12 opera schedule). A slot for Norma for the 2007-08 season! It was a mysterious item in the list, if memory serves, for as time passed it remained largely uncast, while the other operas became progressively populated by singers and boobs. Only Maria Guleghina's website (March 2005) claimed to know who was singing the title role-- an odd circumstance, to say the least. I then started thinking that perhaps the slot was being held for Met diva Renee Fleming, that perhaps Renee, in a sugar rush, floated the idea to a summer intern (I imagine at some afternoon office birthday party, right by the Krispy Kreme donuts and the leftover bagels, while pouring powdered creamer in her coffee) and as talk spread, became a viable possibility. In this scenario, it made sense that the opera remained uncast, for no matter how late in the ballgame, once a star soprano jumps on board the Norma, it's relatively simple to put together her backup singers, not to mention the convenience of having a production that can fit into three of Montsy's suitcases.

So Sieglinde fantasized about possible Norma-Adalgisa tandems (Sept. 2005), while she sent her surrogates to whisper into Renee's ears the vision of her grand ascent to the pantheon as Sieglinde imagines it. (OK, in truth, I asked my friends to utter "Norma" while she signed their programs.) Then, Renee acknowledged the clamor in an interview with Rupert Christiansen (Nov. 2005), and Sieglinde went full force in her campaign. (Which was, uhm, basically sending the same three people to do the same thing every single time they see Renee backstage. Don't knock this strategy-- "shock and awe" don't always work.) Anyway, Sieglinde likes to fantasize.

Dreams do come true, as one Orlando Denny's waitress told me once during her cigarette break. But dreams, like fiber in the digestive system, sometimes take their sweet time. And Renee Fleming, true to form, doesn't just plunge into a role at the Met without first trying it out in the backwater, so the 2007 Norma remained an enigma. In October 2006, La Cieca interrupted regular programming to puke and bring news of signed contracts for Renee's first Norma (in Zurich), and then months after, Renee herself revealed her commitment to singing it in our country 'tis of thee (in Tanglewood specifically), adding "It's a huge risk. But, what? I should never take a risk?" Damn right, bitches. Risk? She eats it for breakfast, with Yoplait. Once Peter Gelb saw a $en$ation in the making, the avalanche is complete.

But lost somewhere were the calculations made for the Norma revival for the 2007-08 season. It seemed everyone forgot that it remained on the list--for the reason Sieglinde cooks up here, or another--well, everyone except Maria Guleghina, who'd eagerly trample anyone in her way. So it remained. A shakeup of the overlapping Macbeth cast gave Guleghina a second assignment, necessitating an alternate singer for the Norma, and this, mes amis, is how we got the world-touring priestess of Hasmik Papian.

In any case, however it unfolds, we are still very much united in wishing that the Fleming Norma come to fruition at the Met. I'm certain the anti-Fleming cabal has already written their reviews before the first "sediziose" is even uttered, so they're also aching to lunge and devour. It is thus displeasing that rumors of Renee rethinking the decision have come up recently. It only underlines the magnitude of the risk. And what a supreme risk indeed, even for an accomplished diva of unmatched technical abilities and in the prime of her already historic career.