This is the legendary Caballé Norma, a live outdoor performance filmed in the Théâtre Antique Orange in Provence in 1974.
Like Callas, Caballé's live performances frequently exceed her studio renditions of the same work. There are several recordings of her in this role. Generally, they are hit or miss but that night she got it absolutely perfect: a true goddess with a voice of an angel floating ethereally. She herself is said to regard it as her finest recorded performance. It is musically and dramatically thrilling. Caballé, who was later accused of being motionless and indifferent on stage, is at her most committed here.
Patané approaches the score as if it were early Verdi. His lead and the response of all on stage give this performance a majestic grandeur with a sustained rhythmic thrust. Vickers is at his prime here. He did not record the role anywhere else. The other soloists all stand out. The tension electrifies the entire performance. Even the mistral (a veritable windstorm) joins in a role of its own to magnify the dramatic effect. It was later imitated in other productions.
There is no other Norma of this caliber. It is simply a miracle.
The audio was recorded in one evening and combined with video filmed during several performances, with hardly any lip sync problems. The film has been available from a variety of sources over the years. This one is a significant improvement over previous VHS and LaserDisc versions. Three publishers currently issue it on DVD, Hardy Classics being the best, but only in PAL. It is the only PAL DVD that I am aware of that is offered for sale in North America by one on-line retailer. This reflects on Hardy's reputation, as well as on that of this performance. Amazon offers the new VAI issue, obviously in NTSC. Prior to this issue the only NTSC version was from the elusive Japanese Dreamlife company, for three times the price.
The sound is in mono. I need to emphasize that there have been better audio versions available of the same event on CD. Opera fans that are familiar with them may have issues with the sound. The wind blowing into the microphones presented problems that different engineers solved with varying degrees of success. One should not expect a film that compares with the best of today's technical standards. Rather, it compares favorably with other historic performances.
Despite the technical issues, it is in a category of its own. Many opera fans consider it the single most important video of a complete live performance available.
And, as always, here's a little taste of what's to come.
"Spectacular. Superb. This is it people. This is beyond good...it is perfection."
"...jamais personne n'a été aussi proche de la perfection
que Montserrat Caballé dans cette representation !une Norma pour l’éternité."