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The brilliant Russian soprano Maria Guleghina is a familiar presence at New York's Metropolitan Opera, Milan's La Scala, London's Covent Garden, and many other operatic venues. Two seasons ago she gave a thrilling concert of Verdi arias for the Concert Association. Her return engagement as Norma did not disappoint. Wearing a flaming red gown, Guleghina had terrific stage presence. The vaulting power of her soprano astounds the ear. Unlike many sopranos who find 'Casta Diva' trying for an entrance aria, Guleghina sang it with warmth and beautifully supported soft tones. For much of the first act she did not have her powerful instrument totally under control and there was some wayward intonation. In the second act Guleghina focused her vocal resources and produced some remarkable singing. Her confrontation scene with Pollione was thrilling. The anger and passion of her dramatic declamation was stunning. The beauty of the final duet -- as Norma sacrifices herself for her sins -- capped an impressive performance of one of opera's most challenging heroines. Guleghina has real 'star quality'. A thrilling Norma!

In many ways the American mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich (as the priestess Adalgisa) stole the show. In 2001 this gifted artist sang this role impressively in a production of Norma at the Palm Beach Opera. Recently she has made important débuts in Rome, Naples, Florence, and Dusseldorf. Aldrich cuts a beautiful, stunning figure on stage. She dominated every one of her scenes. She is a major vocal talent. Her darkly burnished, dusky sound is strikingly beautiful. Her rich, lustrous vocalism was stunning! The beauty of her phrasing and the dramatic intensity of her musical utterance were superb! The voluptuous beauty of Aldrich's mezzo sound is the stuff of which operatic legends are made. Her coloratura singing was often breathtaking! Aldrich is also an intelligent musician. She blended beautifully with Guleghina in their duets and really produced vocal sparks. In a role that Marilyn Horne used to own, Aldrich gave a stellar performance. Here was truly great singing. Kate Aldrich is destined for operatic stardom!

Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra received considerable publicity when he substituted for Luciano Pavarotti at the Met. He is a pillar of conductor Ricardo Muti's ensemble of singers at La Scala, where he has starred in many Verdi operas. A handsome presence on stage, Licitra processes a robust, very Italianate tenor voice. Yet in many ways his performance was disappointing. His high notes were sometimes strained. The voice can turn harsh under pressure. Much of the time his eyes were glued to the musical score. This did not allow him to have much theatrical contact with his fellow artists. Probably due to his reliance on the score, much of his vocalism lacked emotional or expressive nuance. (He could not match Guleghina or Aldrich for dramatic intensity in the trio that concludes Act 1.) Licitra remains a promising singer. He was at his best in the concluding duet. Here, his plush Italian tenor sound was wonderful.

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Copyright © 20 January 2004 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA


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