company. Grange Park Opera
conductor . Stephen Barlow movement . Tom Roden design . Robert Innes Hopkins lx design . Wolfgang Goebells
Martin Constantine's production, which has opened the season at Grange Park Opera, implies a constant awareness of this political dimension, though his alternative Gaul falls somewhere between Serebrenica, Budapest, and Baghdad. The shadowy girl stripped and forced into a vestal robe during the opening scene seems to stand for all those women now being forced to demonstrate their anti-West credentials by Islamification. But if the Romanesque architecture with its breeze-block filling evokes the Mediterranean, the central tragedy is played out in a banal domesticity everyone can identify with. . But since all three are big in both vocal and physical presence, the drama acquires mythic force: real people, you feel, in a real predicament. And when the action gets going, its gripping. But if Rutter is the star, the production as a whole is a superb piece of ensemble work. Getting to remote Grange Park means a big schlepp, but for this show its worth it.
THE INDEPENDENT ****
A brief word of praise for Grange Park's roof-raising Norma, given in the Hampshire festival's jewel-like theatre.
Stephen Barlow conducted an outstanding performance of Bellini's none too ordinary love-triangle in which priestesses break their vows and virgins are not intacta. All come to a catastrophic end as the flames lick around the funeral pyre, obligingly provided in Martin Constantine's updated production. In Claire Rutter, Grange Park has secured a thrilling, starry Norma, her voice secure even in the stratospheric top notes, with Sara Fulgoni impressive as Adalgisa. The entire audience leapt to their feet when Rutter took her bow.
In Grange Park Opera's excellent new production of Bellini's best-known work, the Druid spiritual leader superbly portrayed by Claire Rutter is not holed up in a hideaway remote from her sacred grove but in a building right beside it. Directed by Martin Constantine, and under conductor Stephen Barlow, this was truly a night to remember.
THE OXFORD TIMES
The plot of Norma has always struck me as one of the most resistant to contemporary updating but Martin Constantine in his new production at Grange Park Opera has attempted this tricky task and transported the action to the 21st century with Gaul becoming perhaps a country in Eastern Europe or the Balkans. The nature of the occupying power is kept vague enough that we can populate it with our own political prejudices.
In Act II, Constantine made it clear that these modern day Gauls were not only religious fanatics but freedom fighters. This was Norma translated into a very real, modern context and it enabled Morillo to give us a rather more developed view of Oroveso than the usual rather stock bad tempered father. Morillo was entirely believable as the angry freedom fighter chief.
From this point onwards the opera developed a directness and emotional power which were entirely believable and admirable. The chorus were both thrilling and convincing as the angry, religiously inspired freedom fighters. The duet for Norma and Pollione and the closing ensembles were profoundly moving. To his credit Constantine and designer Innes Hopkins attempted a real funeral pyre, with real flames. The chorus itself...made a very positive impression. Their enthusiasm counted for a lot in Constantine's staging. The men in particular were on fine form in their two solo scenes, singing with good warm tones.
In the past, Grange Park Opera have sometimes proved more adept at performing out of the way rarities than standard repertoire, but here they have scored a notable success.
MUSIC AND VISION