'Norma': Bravura Coloratura

Monday, April 10, 2006

The most delightful moments in the Virginia Opera's scrupulous production of Bellini's "Norma" on Friday night at George Mason University arrived when the voices of the title character and her unwitting nemesis twirled together in a colorful burst of song.

Soprano Fabiana Bravo (Norma) and mezzo-soprano Stacey Rishoi (Adalgisa) traversed the lyric tragedy's demanding coloratura duets with ease. They sang with such uncompromising joy and synchronization that the two seemed more like twin sisters than amorous rivals in the second act.

It was Rishoi's Adalgisa, however, who nearly stole the show with a performance that was convincing and unwavering from start to finish. In her company debut, Rishoi commanded the stage with a lustrous voice graced with natural expression and a surprising clarion projection.

Bravo had a somewhat dry and breathless first act, but she soon regained her fluidity of often flutelike voice for a haunting and moving performance as the mother who nearly murders her own children and later sacrifices herself to atone for her treachery. It's a pity tenor German Villar (Pollione) kept his emotions in check until the final act. His voice, rich in the baritone range, often sounded strained above the staff. Not until he allowed it to emote did he achieve a supple tone.

As Norma's father, Oroveso, Todd Robinson sang with power. Zachary Stains, Shoshanah Marote and the chorus also turned in solid performances.

The orchestra played energetically under Music Director Peter Mark, and the poignant melodies leading into the third act ranked among its most memorable.

-- Grace Jean

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