Who Sang It Better: Divas Do Norma

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by Seth Colter Walls

Welcome to a new feature in which we make the space for opera fanatics to do what they do best: obsess over who sang a work better. (After all, the best part of collecting opera recordings is splitting the finest of performance hairs.) Maria Callas and Dame Joan Sutherland both recorded iconic renditions of the Bellini opera Norma. (Callas' second time around in the studio for EMI is the recording we've used here, while Sutherland's best is her first for Decca.)

Riding into the arena for the first time is mezzo soprano Cecilia Bartoli, on a new recording that pares back the orchestration to period-accurate "classical" forces, instead of the thicker Romantic textures opera audiences may be used to. Bartoli may not have the range to finish Act I's closer ("Vanne, si: mi lascia, indegno") with the thrilling, high-as-high-gets blast of sound that Sutherland managed in her rendition. Nor is the drama as intense as in Callas' best moments, but Bartoli's exquisite trills are sure to win some admirers, too. Check the appended playlist for five of Norma's iconic show-stoppers for its title character (including one of the most famous arias of all time, "Casta Diva"), and hear each singer's interpretation of each tune.

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