Listen to the overture, on the new Cecilia Bartoli recording of Bellini’s Norma. Hot! Giovanni Antonini (the man in the photo) conducts, and the Orchestra La Scintilla plays period instruments. This is the kind of classical performance I like to hear. It has personality. And — as my Juilliard students said this year about classical recordings from past generations — the musicians go for it.
Which gives them a marvelous colloquial touch. Sometimes they sound like the town band. That’s completely appropriate for bel canto opera, which — performed with an audience talking, eating, and gambling — was public entertainment.
Plus town bands actually did play in these operas, when the operas were new. Norma, along with other bel canto and early Verdi works, has a band that’s supposed to play on stage, though in modern performances, to save money, its music is played by the orchestra. But in Bellini’s time, the onstage band was part of the show, and its members were the band from the town the opera house was in.
The entire recording, by the way, is hot. People will argue about Bartoli. A mezzo singing a soprano role? (The range gives her no trouble.) Sounds like a witch sometimes? (Fits her view of the character, and the contrast with Sumi Jo, a lyric soprano Adalgisa, works perfectly. Ferocious older woman vs. innocent young one, just as the opera requires.)
But listen to the overture. It can stand by itself. The town band — a really good one — plays Bellini. Fabulous!
A question. I’m finding that my Monday and Friday posts take longer to write than I thought they would, and take time away from more substantial writing I might do here. Should I discontinue them? Or make them shorter? Or is there some other solution?
I asked this question on Twitter. Two responses: no, absolutely don’t stop writing these posts, and, if you have to, find other writers to do them.
Comments welcome! Tell me what I should do.