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SOME SECOND THOUGHTS
By Henry C. Mayer
Kentucky Opera Presents Bellini & His Masterpiece, "Norma," for first Time
A synopsis for this opera, "Norma," is as follows:
Norma, the high priestess of the Druids, a religious sect who worship the god Isminsul, has secretly violated her vow of virginity and married Pollione, the proconsul of the occupying Romans. To him she has borne two children. Pollione, however, now loves Adalgisa, a virgin of the temple and begs her to flee with him to Rome. Distraught, Adalgisa confides in Norma and asks to be released from her vows. Norma agrees. Then she learns that Adalgisa's lover is her own husband. Norma's brief rage of jealousy gives way to remorse: summoning the Druid warriors to against their oppressors, she offers herself as the necessary sacrifice. Overcome by Norma's magnanimity, Pollioane feels his love for her returning and mounts the sacrificial pyre with her.
Opera's two performances of are its first-ever performance of than widely known masterpiece. At the same time, Vincenzo Bellini became the 60th composer whose works have been performed by our local company, which is acquiring a growing reputation.
Norma offers our local audiences something delightfully different – sinply beautiful music. The speaker is our talented and well-informed chorus master, David Berger. David graciously briefed your observer before the curtain rose.
I readily admit that Bill Mootz's comprehensive review in The Courier Journal is a hard act to follow. I do not fully agree with all he says nor do I wish to ignore his insights. So, I will content myself with a few observations or, as I prefer to call them, "second thoughts."
The duets between the two Hinds sister, Esther and Ruby as Norma and Adalgisa, were were beautiful to hear and I found each person was doing her best. Esther in the title role can sing and act and William Byrnes' gifts as a lighting designer certainly reinforced her vivid portrayal of Norma when confronted with Po1lione's treachery. The character of Norma strikes me as the opera's most demanding role since at various times Norma must be tender, irate, outraged, compassionate and noble and Esther Hinds was equal to each of these challenges. Her rendering of the opera's key solo, "Casta Diva" (O chaste goddess, addressed to the moon) was a memorable moment; this aria is generally considered to be one of the very finest solos in all operatic literature.
Hans Gregory Ashbaker (Pollione) has a beautiful voice and a not inferior acting talent. Still, there was something about his portrayal of Pollione that left me less than satisfied. Bill Mootz called attention to the blond wig and I would observe that also bothered me somewhat. More to the point, he did not always adequately express the rugged, arrogant, possibly cynical conqueror. It was easier for me to see him as the seducer of both Norma and Adalgisa than their lover.
One of the more dramatic aspects of "Norma" is the restlessness of Druids for
war with Rome. Some students of this opera, Leslie Orrey for instance, described the mood of the choral number calling for war in Act IV as a mood of "elemental savagery." That phrase did not describe what I heard.
Finally, I still have second thoughts about a scenery which seemed more symbolic and abstract than realistic. I have in mind Norma's dwelling and the pyre scene.
Although space considerations did not allow us to run this article in an earlier issue, we felt our readers might still enjoy it. Our apologies to Mr. Mootz. – Editor.)
What Is A Critic, Mr. Mootz?
What is a critic – especially a music critic? On a sunny aftermoon, February 21, a number of music lovers gathered at the U of L School of Music's Recital Hall to hear an answer by someone long familiar with the topic. The speaker was The Courier-Journal's long-time critic of musical performance in our city, William Mootz. The event was the first of two programs honoring Mootz's entry into the ranks of. "Distinguished Alumni" of the School.
Mootz charmed the audience with a tantalizing number of definitions of "critic." They ranged from the brief, "the enemy''; the acidic, the late conductor Sir Thomas Beecham's less-than-civil characterization that "critics are absolutely hopeless, they are drooling, driveling, doleful, depressive, dropsical drips"; to George Bernard Shaw's qualifications: "a cultivated taste, writing skill a good knowledge of the art about which one writes, practical critical experience." Mootz, whose training is that of a concert pianist with no little concerns of the critic."
Mootz reminded the audience that "there is never a last word about any work of an" and that it (music) is "an ill-defined language." He warned against taking any critic as the last word. He charmed his hearers by telling some stories about himself and, quite possibly, this lecture gave some people new ideas about both himself and the critic's role. The Award recognized the fact that Mootz's critical acumen includes a national and international reputation.
He quoted violinist Isaac Stern's comment that "a critic should be a first-class educator" and revealed that he (Mootz) spends considerable time in studying the scores of the pieces he will hear. Mootz's reputation was benefited by his first mentor, the former Dean of the School of Music, Dwight Anderson and the leadership 'of the late Barry Bingham Sr., who once said, "We wanted him to be writing of how the very best perform."
The Award was present on February 24 at the School.