Hit 'n' mistletoe

Norma, Scottish Opera Theatre Royal, Glasgow

As well as having acquired a real political future, Scotland possesses Britain's most exciting opera company, Scottish Opera, which has sailed into success at a time when others - notably the Royal Opera - are struggling.

Ian Judge's staging of Norma made good sense back in 1993, its chief virtue being Jane Eaglen, a heroine touched with real greatness. Judge has returned to direct the revival and the greatness has now shifted in the direction of the production and the musical direction. John Gunter's monumental designs constantly stress the vertical-soaring pilasters, fluorescent tree-trunks and the two designers (Deirdre Clancy did the costumes) make great use of expressive motifs, spears, sickles and mistletoe, with a huge mask of Caesar to dominate the Roman scenes. It has the impact of a Judge Dredd adventure, with Davy Cunningham (lighting) providing spectacular back-lights and silhouettes.

From the beginning of the overture, the conductor (Julian Smith, Welsh National Opera's head of music) aimed for long bursts of sustained power rather than finicky detail. It was a streaming flood of sound which bore the singers mightily onward.

Penelope Walmsley-Clark is not a great Norma, but she is a fine and versatile artist who understands the many sides of the part. The coloratura is taken in a full voice that can sound glutinous and her pathos sounds studied. But her "Casta Diva" began in a rapturous mezza voce that gleamed palely like the moon it addressed, and her full-bodied sound was right for the femme fatale in Act 2.

Daniel Munoz proved capable and italianate as Pollione, but he remained rather detached - a betrayer who did not really care much about Norma and Adalgisa, the women he betrayed.

Adalgisa, however, is the real sensation of this production. Anne Mason has been heard before in Scotland, but one does not recall the seamless voice, the flashing eyes, the horror, passion, misery and hysteria that blazes in her Adalgisa. The production scaled greatest heights when the two females sang together; Bellini's great melody in "Mira, O Norma" was heart-rending.

This was a fine piece of team-work and an ideal start for the refurbished Theatre Royal.

Theatre Royal box office: 0141-332 9000. Performances 2, 11 and 24 October

Raymond Monelle

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