Monday, Oct. 28, saw the second of two performances by Angela Meade in the title role of Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma,” considered the acme of dramatic singing in the bel canto style. Maestro Riccardo Frizza led a taut ensemble between orchestra pit and stage, driving the action forward with special attention to rhythm and colour.
Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko ardently sang the role of the two-timing Pollione, proconsul of the occupying Roman forces in Gaul (France) roughly 50 B.C.E. where we see Druids only. The young novice priestess Adalgisa, electrifyingly portrayed by American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, represents Pollione’s second romantic foray into the enemy camp. The Druid high priestess Norma, his first conquest, learns Pollione has betrayed her from Adalgisa, who sought to unburden a guilty conscience for having violated her virginal vows. Norma’s heatedly jealous discovery only intensifies the young woman’s guilt. We soon learn, though, that Norma has no business throwing any stones.
Meanwhile, the Druid priest Oroveso, Norma’s father, does all he can to keep the Gauls from revolting against the Romans until the timing is right. He knows nothing of his daughter sleeping with the enemy, and she has even managed to keep her two children in secret. American bass-baritone James Morris, singing one of over 900 Met performances since his 1971 debut, struggled to be heard in Act I but was all power and clarion strength in Act II.
Though “Norma” features three male roles, it is chiefly ladies night. The two priestesses, Norma and Adalgisa, sing high-powered duets in both acts—first in friendship, then in rage and anguish, and finally in reconciliation and solidarity—and these were showstoppers. The women’s stage chemistry spurred each other on to greater vocal feats, and they blended divinely.
Soprano Angela Meade, who hails from Centralia, Wash., and now resides in Philadelphia, received thunderous applause following her Act I entrance aria, “Casta diva,” thought by many to be the most difficult to sing in the soprano literature. In an interview last week, the gifted and immensely talented soprano shared with ventwing.com her insights into the role in general and that aria in particular.
The difficulties to “Casta diva”:
You have to have ultra-legato and sustain long breaths, and those can be pitfalls for sure. I actually find the cabaletta of ‘Casta diva’ much more difficult to sing than the aria itself. And there are various other parts in the role as well—some of the things in the trio of the first act are particularly difficult to sing. But overall I think the cabaletta of ‘Casta diva’ is the most difficult part of the role.”
What does she say to people who think opera is irrelevant? “Go see one. Opera is primal emotions performed in a sung format. Like any kind of music with words—whether it’s pop, country, rap—it all tells a story about what makes us human.”
Angela Meade deploys a two- sometimes three-note easy laugh in staccato. Regarding her skill with floating seemingly detached pianissimo high notes, she discovered it almost by accident. “I was just sort of fiddling around with it in a practice room one day and it just sort of happened and I was like, Oh! [Laughing] Oh! So that’s how you do that.”
Why such soft singing thrills when people typically expect opera to feature singing at full volume: “It’s a skill that I guess not a great number of singers possess. What makes it so much more exciting is you hear it and realise this person has this powerful technique and is able to draw it back to practically nothing. It’s almost like when somebody whispers—you listen so much more intently.”
People will be listening ever more intently to this rising star as she tackles four new roles during the next several months: Alice Ford in Verdi’s “Falstaff” at the Met (Dec., Jan.); Fidelia in Puccini’s “Edgar” in Frankfurt, Germany (Feb.); Matilde in Rossini’s “Guglielmo Tell” in Turin, Italy (May); and the title role of Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia” (summer).
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