New Opera Dimensions Touches The Heart Of Italy

International singers stage Bellini's Norma in Poggio Bustone for the first large-scale performance since Covid.

New Opera Dimensions singer Diego Godoy in a centurion costume looks off into the distance.
Star tenor Diego Godoy is Pollione in New Opera Directions' staging of Norma by Bellini. Photo: Khulan Davaadorj, costume designer.

New Opera Dimensions is a relatively young cultural association based in Rome, but has already acquired an important recognition among professionals on an international level. After the official opening celebration in 2019 with its concerts involving international young singers from the US, Europe, and Asia, it faced the Covid pandemic years, which made the public wait impatiently for their performances.

The first representation of the complete opera project began with Norma by Vincenzo Bellini, held last August 8th in a fascinating setting in the Rieti mountains, in collaboration with the Sanctuary of Saint Francis of Poggio Bustone — one of the main religious sites and points of the San Francis pilgrimage. The project involved a cast of brilliant singers from different continents: Italy, France, Spain, Sweden, Mongolia, Chile, Russia, and South Korea.

President of New Opera Dimensions Ayana Sambuu says, “It hasn’t been easy to get up and start all over again after the lockdowns. Finally, two years after the end of the Covid, more and more people started coming to our concerts, some still wearing masks, but we felt that it was time to create some larger-scale projects that we had planned before the pandemic.

“Thus, in 2022 and 2023, we’ve announced the first New Opera Dimensions editions of both the Summer Opera Studio project (to produce complete operas) and the Crystal Note Awards opera singing competition.

“This year, the entire world celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Great Soprano Maria Callas; thus, as our first production, we have chosen Norma by Bellini, one of her main career-defining operas, while the Crystal Note Awards final ceremony will be held for this occasion on December 2nd, at the renowned Sala Baldini Concert Hall in the very heart of Rome.

“The Crystal Note Trophy was designed and sponsored by the Italian art glass master Enrico De Angelis from Murano and his prestigious La Fonderia studios, using the antique Venetian glass technique.

A woman dressed as an Elf in a long gold robe embraces a tree.
President of New Opera Dimensions and soprano falcon Ayana Sabuu is Norma. Photo courtesy: Khulan Davaadorj, costume designer.

“Moreover, we are happy to have prestigious media partnerships with WDRT 91.9 FM USA with the Symphony Sunday and Music in So Many Words programs presented by the contemporary American music composer William Grosvenor Neil, Arts TV Journal by the Mongolian National Broadcaster, and Batbayar TV Europe News Agency. Moreover, we established precious collaborations with Comune of Poggio Bustone, Italics Magazine, and several other sponsoring organisations from the USA, Poland, Italy, and Mongolia.

“One of the main scopes of New Opera Dimensions is introducing green politics and healthy lifestyle into our stage activities and performances. Therefore, for the Crystal Note Awards singers will be awarded with kits of Tibetan herbal products that are naturally efficient for the respiratory apparatus, immune system and voice care.”

On another note, the Norma by Bellini Opera Studio project aims to discover young talents making their debut as singers, designers, and scenographers under the guidance and collaboration of mature and internationally recognized colleagues and other theater experts and professionals.

Accompanied by the pianist Victoria Khalilova and singer Ayana Sambuu in the leading role of Norma, special guests such as the tenor Diego Godoy, interpreter of the Gaul Proconsul Pollione, bass-baritone Vicente Dominguez Rosario, President of International Lyric Competition of Villa Teror of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, singing the role of Oroveso, Head of Druids; young opera singers such as Maria Smirnova (soprano) and Seungyeon Ko (soprano) in the same part of Adalgisa; Veronica Mancini (soprano) as Clotilde; and Cosimo D’Ambrosio (tenor) in the role of Flavio, all have wonderfully coped with their first times in these roles, presenting exceptional interpretation.

The collaboration of secondary roles singers Lkhagvasuren Bazardari (Mongolia-Sweden) as the superior sacerdote, and sopranos Hyelin Han, Jane Pan and the tenor Seokyong Yoon from South Korea as sacerdotes, has dramatically enriched the final performance in the breathtaking “sacred woods” setting of Poggio Bustone to create a cinematic effect for the performance, all filmed by Fabrizio Forcella.

The Vicar of the Sanctuary of Poggio Bustone, Renzo Cocchi, opened the event interpreting the 5th Canto by Dante Alighieri, giving the touch of a refined theater atmosphere and transporting the public to another dimension.

The crucial role of the co-creator of the project and its leading costume designer Khulan Davaadorj, graduate student of the IUAV of Venezia in collaboration with New Opera Dimensions, shall be also stressed. This young Mongolian artist’s creativity and haute couture craftsmanship has conquered everyone’s imagination.

A woman in a white robe and wire headdress holds her hand to her chest and stares dreamily off into the distance.
Soprano Maria Smirnova is Adalgisa. Photo courtesy: Khulan Davaadorj, costume designer.

Moreover, the roles of Norma and Pollione have been powerfully interpreted by Ayana Sambuu and Diego Godoy, presenting the strong voices with profound drama and depth. The rare types known as soprano falcon for Ayana Sambuu whilst Diego Godoy’s tenore spinto have decisively enriched the entire performance of the opera. Norma has been seen in the vests of an invented character as mixed Druidic and Elf Queen Ukok, whose mummy from 2000 years ago was found in the Altai Mountains, all powerfully represented in the costumes created by Khulan Davaadorj to bring the authentic magic into the performance. In this way, the New Opera Dimensions’ version of Norma represents the people of the world who are historically and culturally tied with woods, forests, and nature.

As Ayana says, “As the main creator of the project, interpreting the role and working simultaneously on the organisational tasks of the entire project has been extremely challenging and has taken great effort. Our goal to become an international touring theater project has still to be reached, thus we are inviting all interested institutions to join us to collaborate to make our first seeds grow.”

A woman in a floor-length white robe washes her hands at a tap against a stone wall.
Soprano Veronica Mancini is Clotilde. Photo courtesy: Khulan Davaadorj, costume designer.

Special guest Damien O’Farrell wrote after the event, “It was amazing to see Ayana Sambuu and the other performers from New Opera Dimensions Online Opera & Arts Magazine stage Norma by Vincenzo Bellini at the Santuario San Giacomo in Poggio Bustone as an enchanting and stunning backdrop.

“The bel canto opera Norma, written by Vincenzo Bellini, is a masterpiece. The performance by New Opera Dimensions Rome of this incredible opera is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The performers in this production have truly outdone themselves. From the opening notes to the final scene, the singers and the pianist delivered a breathtaking experience that left the audience spellbound. […] I encourage you to attend the upcoming events of New Opera Dimensions Rome, as they are a must-see for any lover of music and theater.”