Ruth Ann Swenson (Adalgisa) and Hasmik Papian (Norma) in Norma (photo courtesy of Baltimore Opera)
Starring in the title role is Armenian soprano Hasmik Papian, returning yet again to the part that has earned her critical acclaim here in Washington and around the world, including famously sweeping in to last year's production at the Met. Papian sang with remarkable fortitude, scaling her voice to the moment in a range from velvety pianissimo to searing forte. Not every run or trill was in place, but she has earned the reputation she has as one of the few sopranos today who can sing Norma well. True, her voice can tilt toward the acidic here and there, but that is well suited to the vengeful, mercurial disposition of the Druid priestess.
Soprano Hasmik Papian in Norma (photo courtesy of Baltimore Opera)
The libretto by Felice Romani borders on the patently absurd, involving the love entanglement in ancient Gaul of a Roman soldier (Pollione) with not one, but two Druid priestesses, who are both supposed to be vowed to chastity to the moon goddess. The production directed by Roberto Oswald was a somber affair, full of gloomy colors that made Norma's red veil in the final scene stand out for it warmth. The costumes by Anibal Lapiz were so drab and ugly that one was thankful for the often murky lighting by Benjamin Pearcy to make them less visible, like the shabby robes for the priests that looked recycled from the Hebrew chorus of Nabucco. When Norma made her famous entrance in Act I, one could be forgiven for wondering why that filthy washerwoman had entered instead.
Tim Smith, Baltimore Opera's 'Norma' is of note (Baltimore Sun, November 20)
Anne Midgette, In Baltimore's 'Norma,' Swenson Is Second to None (Washington Post, November 21)
This production of Norma will be repeated two more times, tonight (November 21, 8 pm) and Sunday afternoon (November 23, 3 pm). A special promotion is in place that discounts ticket prices by $20 for tonight's performance.