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West Bay Opera’s Norma Emerges from Challenges — on Stage and Off

September 26, 2017

Bellini’s Norma is considered the ultimate test in all of opera for a dramatic coloratura soprano, a notion recently explored in The New York Times. In one of his classic reviews, Martin Bernheimer summarized why the Druid priestess’s secret love life is fodder for singers’ nightmares:

“An appropriate interpreter of this nearly impossible role must be a bel-canto enchantress with a voice that suggests velvet one moment, steel the next. She ought to command an extraordinarily wide dynamic range, a vast spectrum of vocal light and shade, uncommon flexibility and a flamboyant temperament.”

A daunting, even scary prospect for most singers, but not for Christina Major, who will make her role debut as Norma in West Bay Opera’s upcoming production. Why is she so sanguine?

As Major told SFCV:

Life has certainly taken me on a route I hadn’t expected, but to sing this role, you must have lived and experienced life from all angles — love, confusion, motherhood, secrecy — different faces for different situations: anger, betrayal, forgiveness, and purification through fire. The vocal demands are as difficult as her life painted in the score.

“With the arrival our first child four months early and then eight months in the neonatal intensive care unit, I was forced to take a hiatus from the opera stage until we were both well. Eden is now 2 years old and a fireball. Watching her fight and come to life through all of that, it was clear I had to do the same. So why not the Everest of the soprano repertoire?

Major feels profound gratitude to “the village it takes,” which includes her husband Greg, her family in Fort Worth, Texas, and to what she calls her “team” in New York City —  her agent Peter Randsman and voice teacher Andrea DelGiudice. “And José Luis Moscovich for bringing me back to the stage!”

Life has brought challenges beyond those of the stage for Moscovich too. The indomitable general director of West Bay Opera has been dividing his time between the demands of several major surgeries on his neck and spine, and leading the company, which requires conducting for hours at a time. “I powered through Salome, but by early August I had to have emergency surgery,” he says, “and now I am going forward with Norma. We’ll see how it feels when we get into the heat of things.”

Beyond dealing with serious medical problems, Moscovich’s focus has been on  “assembling a dream cast for Norma.” Of Major, he says, “the evolution of her voice and her craft are nothing short of miraculous. I truly believe this will put her on the map as a major Norma. Her voice has the heft, the coloratura, and the ability to float that are indispensable for the role.”

Australian tenor Ben Sloman, is cast as Pollione, the Roman proconsul in Gaul, Norma’s faithless lover. Moscovich says Sloman “has been making waves on the East Coast and has a voice that at times reminds me of Vickers.”

Adalgisa is Veronica Jensen, WBO’s Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, Frugola in Il tabarro, the Page in Salome. Isaiah Musik-Ayala, Jochanaan in Salome, will sing Oroveso. Igor Vieira is directing.

“We’ll be doing an original period production,” Moscovich says, “but emphasizing the pagan and Wiccan aspects of the story. This will be evident in the costumes, and there will also be tattoos, which were very much a part of the culture.” 

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].