The Baltimore Opera Company's current staging of Bellini's "Norma" may be the finest production of an opera I've heard this company give since its "Salome" about 10 years ago. It is brilliantly sung, well played, beautifully costumed and intelligently directed.
The BOC is one of many American companies that is benefiting from the floodgate of superbly trained, enormously gifted Soviet singers. In this production, however, the company has hit the jackpot.
The Yerevan- and Moscow-trained Hasmik Papian, who sang the title role on Thursday night in the Lyric Opera House, is only 35, and I suspect we will be hearing about her for years to come. Her voice is healthy, flexible and splendid. If there is any soprano out there who surpasses her in the ease, amplitude and tonal beauty she brings to this famously difficult role, I'd like to hear about her. She also has splendid musical instincts -- she completely inhabits Norma's rage and tenderness -- and she has honed her performance so that nearly every treacherous note falls in place.
Papian was superbly partnered by Irina Mishura. This Moldavian mezzo-soprano made a terrific impression here last season as Carmen, and she is at least as good as Adalgisa. She sang with enormous power but was nonetheless able to convey the character's naive vulnerability.
Her opening soliloquy was delivered in rapt, delicate tones. And she rose to the challenge of the opera's famous duets. In the first of these, Mishura and Papian tossed the descending figurations back and forth faultlessly and then rose together in trills as if they were paired birds.
Sergei Kunaev sounded initially light for Pollione -- especially in comparison with the two women. But he always sang with taste, skill and sensitivity, and in the final act, his voice seemed to acquire ever greater resonance.
No one in the cast sang better than bass-baritone Vladimir Vaneev as Orovesco. The voice is beautiful: firm, smooth and dark in timbre. He is also very musical. He conveyed the sense of frustration and loss usually missing from most performances. And there was a sense of majesty that only Russian bassos seem to have.
Andrea Licata's conducting was supple and flowing. The sets and costumes by the Argentine team of Roberto Oswald and Anibal Lapiz put those by many richer companies to shame.
When: Wednesday at 7: 30 p.m.; today and Nov. 20 at 8: 15 p.m.; Sunday and Nov. 22 at 3 p.m.
Where: Lyric Opera House, 110 W. Mount Royal Ave.
Pub Date: 11/14/98