Second-cast singers keep the fire burning for FGO’s “Norma”

By Lawrence Budmen

Mary Elizabeth Williams and Frank Porretta sang the lead roles in the second-cast performance of FGO's "Norma" on Sunday.

Mary Elizabeth Williams and Frank Porretta sang the lead roles in the second-cast performance of FGO’s “Norma” on Sunday.

A new soprano and tenor were on the stage for Florida Grand Opera’s production of Bellini’s Norma Sunday at the Arsht Center. For much of the afternoon, this second cast proved more than credible, with the new Norma and Pollione bringing different vocal and dramatic qualities to their roles.

Mary Elizabeth Williams played Norma as less a high priestess, and more of a vulnerable woman, presenting a fresh take on the role with musical and dramatic choices that were largely convincing.

Smaller in scale, this Norma was tender and human. That approach seemed to fit Williams’ voice perfectly. Her vocal timbre is lighter in sonority with a particularly opulent middle register. She navigated “Casta diva” artfully, gaining strength as the aria progressed.

In the second act, Williams became more comfortable, the voice flowing freely. Agile in coloratura, Williams melded well in duet with Dana Beth Miller’s lustrous Adalgisa. In Norma’s final confrontation with her former lover, she projected the conflicting emotions of  love and hate with real conviction. As she confessed her sin to her fellow Druids, Williams’ tones were meltingly beautiful.

Frank Porretta was a burly, husky-voiced Pollione. He got off to a shaky start, his initial scene and aria burdened by a heavy vibrato and spread in the top register. In the concluding trio of Act I, the tenor seemed overextended against the strong instruments of Williams and Miller. Porretta improved significantly in the second act and managed to create a conflicted figure rather than the stock characterization of the Roman leader. The tenor sounded ardent in his final scenes with the heroine, with soft tones beautiful and the text subtly projected.

Under Anthony Barrese’s authoritative baton, the production remains a faithful traversal of Bellini’s bel canto music drama.

Florida Grand Opera repeats Norma 8 p.m. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at the Arsht Center in Miami and 7:30 p.m. February 11 and 13 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale.; 800-741-1010.

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Mon Jan 25, 2016
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