The true opera aficionado must have caught their glorious lunacy at least in part from the unbalanced soprano characters of the genre who are gifted with dazzling mad scenes, dripping gore and vocal bravado, daggers in hand and throats all a-trill. Our most beloved divas love to sing them, weary as they are of playing the pretty girl who faints at the slightest provocation. And we love to watch them love it, chewing up the sets and throttling the well-deserving tenor. Lyric Opera’s production of “Norma” provides all the vocal dazzle any opera-gasper could wish for in answer to Bellini’s soaring score, strung together with a “Medea”-esque plot built only to provide sufficient psychopathic behavior from the men to drive our leading lady over the edge of the orchestra pit.
The Adalgisa of mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong enlightens and enlivens the story’s limp arc with vocal and emotional depth, the range of each seemingly insuperable; she is the Marilyn Horne of our time. As Pollione, Russell Thomas’ tenor throbs so ardently that it is difficult to care that his acting chops aren’t polished in kind. Andrea Silvestrelli supplies the grandeur and wisdom for Oroveso, the perceptible age of his voice as right as it would be if he were acting the role in the play from which the libretto is devised.
Lyric-favorite Sondra Radvanovsky is stupendous as Norma, using her amazing acting, balletic sense of movement and dramatic coloratura instrument to embody a character and share a performance that must be seen. Every note from her lovely throat has an emotional impetus, with all the pianissimo and fioritura perfectly in place and in service to Norma’s nobility and humanity.
And if Jessica Jahn’s costumes looked to be chosen by a sociopathic bride who wanted to ensure that her bridesmaids all wore a dress that could flatter no one and David Korins’ set likely meant something annoyingly obtuse, so what?
In today’s monetary and artistic climate, what is the value of the out-sized form called “opera”? Don’t answer that question until you’ve seen this “Norma.” (Aaron Hunt)
Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 North Wacker, (312)827-5600, lyricopera.org, $49-$269. Through February 24.