Melbourne Opera Norma - photo by Robin HallsLauded as the Everest of opera, the cast of this production certainly rose to the technical demands of Bellini’s Norma. The show is challenging both vocally and dramatically. Such a scandalous plot promises to amuse even the most sceptical of opera goers. The bel canto music was vivid and full of movement. Sung in passionate Italian, at times I found myself so lost in the magnificent voices, I forgot to read the English surtitles.

Helena Dix is a rising star of opera globally, returning to the Melbourne stage after appearing at The Metropolitan Opera. Her witty and feisty Norma was highly entertaining. I did fail, however, to feel Norma’s guilt for her own sins. It was only from reading the synopsis that I understood she too had broken her vows and betrayed her people.

The best on-stage chemistry was perhaps between Norma and Adalgisa. Norma’s empathy for a woman who committed the same sins as her and Analgesia’s deep loyalty to Norma, came across as a (somewhat twisted) sisterhood. Jacqueline Dark was endearing as Adalgisa. Eddie Muliaumaseali’i as Norma’s father Oroveso and Samuel Sakker as her cheating husband Pollione were good matches for the strong female leads.

The story takes place in Gaul, ancient France, while under Roman occupation. The female characters were dressed in period costumes, while the male costumes were inspired 20th century resistance fighters. While this gave them spirit, their rifles somewhat interrupted the atmosphere of the druid sacred ritual scenes.

Dale Ferguson’s striking set design, enhanced by John Collopy’s lighting design, was a wonderful feature of the show without overpowering the performances. I particularly enjoyed the added sense of imminent tragedy the ceiling-height drapes gave to the opening of Act II.

Overall a well-rehearsed and executed production. Helena Dix alone makes it worth seeing.

Athenaeum Theatre, 188 Collins Street, Melbourne
Performance: Tuesday 17 September 2019 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 24 September 2019
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Image: Eddie Muliaumaseali’i as Oroveso and Helena Dix as Norma – photo by Robin Halls

Review: Sophia Dickinson