Well there sure are a lot reasons to dislike this Norma revival. Let us enumerate them:
1. Franco Farina: please stop shouting at me. I don't know what I did to deserve this, but you have made your point several times now and it's beginning to look silly. Seriously tho, there were times in this that I forgot my distaste for him a bit--he spun some lines in the middle regions that certainly suggested something sensitive and lyrical and not shouty, but overall, it wasn't so much 'enjoyable' as it was the aural equivalent of partially turned half and half. Sure, if you smell it really quick, you can sometimes convince yourself its OK, especially if your other options are skim and non-dairy creamer, but ultimately it's going to leave a nasty taste in your mouth.
2. Someone needs to tell Maestro Benini that it is a purifying of the sacred clearing and not a funeral for said clearing. Too bad, too, because the sound he was drawing from the orchestra had lots of light n' clear bel canto goodness. But all that purdy sound quality don't count for much when it's deployed with zero momentum. The main numbers and the climaxes hummed well enough, but I found a lot of the intervening stretches ploddy and lifeless, enough so that I feared the whole thing might accidentally grind to a halt.
3. This is one cheap-ass looking production. It's like they had some cash left over in 1992 and someone bet the scene shop they couldn't put together a whole Norma with it (although it is fact only *5* years old). Seriously, it's like they decided to do Norma as the random Winter musical at my high school that no one got too invested in. Only my high school had better stage direction. This is amateur, amateur stuff. And PS, 6 guys with mini torches does not a funeral pyre make. At the very least, they could have turned the ginormous moon shaped piece of scrim red for the finale. But perhaps there wasn't money left for red gels after they had bought all the papier mache and chicken wire for the Druid-y stump things that make up the 'set'.
And yet...despite those misgivings, I'm still awfully glad I went, thanks to DZ, the greatness of the piece itself, and the wonderful Hasmik Papian. Papian is a Norma worth the price of admission. The tone is beautiful, the top crystal clear and exciting, the vocal acting nuanced and frequently disarming. Seeing it live for the first time, I really understood why people go on about the difficulty--I suppose one really needs to verify in person that the same noises are successfully coming out of the same throat to be awed at the challenges of the part. So it was extra exciting to watch Papian take it in stride. Sieglinde has a nice description of Papian's virtues. If you won't go without quibbles, I will note that 1) in a few of the florid lower passages she sounded a bit anemic, and 2) she relinquished focus and control of the stage at times, especially during a few ensembles (tho I felt there might also be opening night nervousness/wretched blocking in play). Happy now?
DZ was her usual brilliant self. She definitely makes for a heavier-voiced Aldagisa than I've heard in my limited listening experience, and it seemed to show particularly in the bits with Norma, that were more power duets, less delicate trifles. I'm awfully intrigued by the chatter in other quarters about how she should take on the title role herself.
Bottom line: you can't keep a good opera down no matter how you try. So let's do it for real next time. If no RF/Wilson, let Hasmik headline it. Bring DZ back. Put ANYONE in there for Farina. And don't even be clever about it, just build an applause-at-the-curtain realistic field/rocky monolith set and include some tasteful fire FX at the end. Is that really so hard? Come now.