Review: Norma (Canadian Opera Company)

233 – Dimitry Ivashchenko as Oroveso (centre) and Sondra Radvanovksy as Norma (on platform) in the Canadian Opera Company production of Norma, 2016. Conductor Stephen Lord, director Kevin Newbury, set designer David Korins, costume designer Jessica Jahn, and lighting designer Duane Schuler, photo: Chris Hutcheson

Canadian Opera Company’s Norma burns bright at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre

For me, a night of opera can fall into three categories: Please Make It Stop; That’s So Interesting; and Transported By Magic. Norma, a co-production of Canadian Opera Company with San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Gran Teatre del Liceu (Barcelona) is pure Magic.

COC is great at opening the season with something spectacular in both music and visuals, with Norma at the front of this 2016-2017 season being no exception.

When I saw the performance, the title role was sung by the world-class bel canto (literally, Italian for “beautiful song”) soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. There’s controversy about the bel canto style among opera circles, but the embellishments and movement through the registers continually delights me. It’s showy, but I go to the opera for the pyrotechnics (vocal, sartorial, and otherwise) and so I am unabashed. Radvanovsky has an amazing command of her voice and the language. Even if not a lot gets done plot-wise in three hours of opera, it’s still a delightful trip.

It is unusually great to be able to say that there is not a single thing that really stands out about this production of Norma. The staging is grand and imposing. The music is tight and full of nuance. And the two female leads (Radvanovsky and Isabel Leonard, playing Adalgisa) have a particularly sweet energy together, carefully attuned and in seemingly effortless (which means, long-rehearsed and carefully timed) synchronicity.

It is a full experience in every way—spectacle and beauty in full bloom—with a richness and complexity to leave a patron satiated. Even the acting, which is not always a strength of opera, is great in most cases (the exception being Dimitry Ivaschenko as Norma’s father Oroveso, who looked fantastic but could as well have been a set-piece for how animated he was).

I also want to spare a bouquet of compliments for the Canadian Opera Company orchestra, under the direction of Stephen Lord. Though I generally enjoy COC‘s regular conductor, Johannes Debus, I often find that he lets the orchestra get a bit louder than I prefer and it means some of the lower registers get overshadowed.

Lord takes a deft and delicate touch with the score, and it added a lot to my experience of the opera. Likewise, set designer David Korins and costumier Jessica Jahn brought fresh, Broadway-tuned sensibility to the stage, suggesting and interpreting a period that few audience members would have a visual reference for or expectation about in a way that was coherent and interesting.

There is only one thing I struggled with, and that’s the fault of no one living. The premise feels hard to swallow: Norma is secretly married to the Roman overlord, the local head of the occupying army, and has two children with him, but the people she lives with don’t seem to know that she has children, or that they are hers, or who else they might be related to.

The children know, but somehow have not told anyone. And I have the usual challenge of characters being “stealthy” while singing. Romans sneak into the druid temple and sing loudly about having done so while not getting caught, Norma stands over her children, dagger aloft, preparing to kill them while singing and they do not stir. Oh, well. They look and sound fantastic as they do it, and that’s more than enough to make me recommend this production.


  • Norma is playing at the Four Seasons Centre until November 5th, 2016 with alternating casts (145 Queen Street West)
  • Tickets range in price from $35-$239, with discounted tickets available for youth through the COC Opera Under 30 program and are available online, or through the box office 416-363-8361

Photo of Dimitry Ivashchenko as Oroveso (centre) and Sondra Radvanovksy as Norma (on platform) in the Canadian Opera Company production of Norma, 2016 by Chris Hutcheson