James Creswell sings the role of Oroveso in a new production of Bellini’s Norma and he puts down his main props – an axe and a leather apron - to speak about preparing for this new part, in an opera that is quite a grand departure from his familiar roles.
"I’m Seattle born and currently living in Madrid, where I have a young family, but I’m travelling constantly, whether to perform in Europe or in the UK. This particular role, as the father of the druid priestess Norma, is an important one for me. It’s so different to anything I have sung before. I have been moving into heavier, Wagnerian repertoire for some time - I sang Fasolt in Opera North’s Das Rheingold last year, and am preparing the Flying Dutchman for English National Opera later this year - but I have also been keen to do something more like this.
"Norma is really beautiful Italian ‘bel canto’ music, which has some very elaborate singing. It is a much lighter style of singing and by modern standards can sometimes sound old fashioned or even comical, but it is such a joy to perform. This role gives me the opportunity to increase the breadth of what I do and also makes for a great change. It could not be more different to Wagner."
Norma demands a great deal from its performers, in particular the lead soprano, sung by Annemarie Kremer, who sings on stage for practically all of the 2 ½ hour opera. Director Christopher Alden, who directed Tosca for Opera North in 2009, brings a new interpretation to the production, set in an insular community in rural England. James’ role is the main observer of the action on stage; he is complicit in all the intrigue and he revels in the drama.
“I do a lot of grimacing at the children and sharpening my axe. My character thinks that Norma’s two ‘hidden’ children destroy the community and that by getting rid of them, they can carry on as normal. It’s not really a character I can relate to as I have a four year old boy and love kids.”
Norma opened at Leeds Grand Theatre on 28 January. Further performances are on 4 [2.30pm], 9, 15 and 17 [7.00pm] February at Leeds Grand Theatre, 22 and 25 February at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, 29 February and 3 March at The Lowry, Salford Quays, and 7 and 10 March at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle. For more information and to book tickets, click here.
Photo: James Creswell as Oroveso and Annemarie Kremer as Norma in Opera North's new production of Norma. Photo credit: Alastair Muir.