“Love is more sacred than your rites!”: A classic yet enthralling story of love, revenge and redemption. Sze Yu Wang from Harbour Times reviews the final matinee of Musica Viva’s “Norma”.
Photo from Musica Viva on Facebook.
Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma is a tragic tale of inner conflict and tortured duality—it’s characters are painfully divided by love and religion, war and peace, Rome and Gaul, and motherhood and priesthood. This past Sunday, Musica Viva’s production of Norma (directed by Dr. Lo King Man) expertly re-expressed these familiar themes, in what proved to be a refreshing return to some semblance of live-performance normality.
The performance was largely traditional in its setting, staging and costume. Complemented by effective atmospheric lighting, the Sacred Forest of the Druids exuded an intriguing sense of ancient mysticism while Norma’s dwelling radiated modest warmth and nostalgia. The brash, passionate red of Pollione’s (Dominick Chenes) Roman attire also evoked a bold and deeply symbolic contrast with the white and gold elegance of the Gaelic priests.
“What are these warlike voices at the altar?” Norma (Meryl Dominguez) asks at the start of the first act.
Norma’s evocative juxtaposition of rage and purity was powerfully reflected in the production’s musical numbers—the orchestra, led by conductor Vivian Ip, masterfully alternated between grand, bombastic notes and light virtuous melodies, enhancing the sense of inner conflict and binary opposition that permeated through the performance.
“What are these warlike voices at the altar?”
– NORMA (PLAYED BY MERYL DOMINGUEZ)
However, critics pinpointed the unequal balance between the three leads as one of the major flaws of Musica Viva’s production. SCMP’s Dirk Luiten suggested that the characterisation of Dominick Chenes’ Pollione “lacked strength”, and cited the trio at the conclusion of Act One as an area that required a “greater balance between the three”.
Chenes delivered a solid vocal performance, but his character failed to connect with audiences. In part this is due to the nature of the script. For the majority of the opera, Pollione is written as a fickle, unlikeable and wholly unremarkable character. Chenes’ acting was by no means poor, but it failed to elevate Pollione into a sufficiently meaningful or memorable part. By the time the finale arrived, Pollione’s sudden renewed love for Norma wound up lacking emotional depth and resonance.
Despite this, Meryl Dominguez shone as the tormented Norma, tragically torn between her priestess’ virtue and her desire for a spurned lover’s revenge, while Hilary Ginther was equally excellent as the young Aldagisa. Dominguez and Ginther’s duets proved far and away the highlight of the show—the maternal Norma and the innocent Aldagisa formed a seamless pairing, lending a strong emotional and spiritual backbone to the production. Colette Lam (as Clotilde), Ricard Lugo (as Oroveso) and Henry Ngan (as Flavio) rounded out the rest of the cast.
As the worldwide vaccination effort continues, we can only hope that in the coming months more and more productions will have the opportunity to showcase the same live performance magic that Musica Viva displayed on Sunday afternoon.
Disclosure: MEiC Cyril Ma was involved in the Chorus of Norma. The journalist was not aware of this information during the writing of this review.