Norma, Opera by V. Bellini
The Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice presents this tragedia lirica in two acts with music by Vincenzo Bellini and Italian libretto by Felice Romani, based on the tragedy Norma ou l'infanticide by L. A. Soumet.
Composed in less than three months, Norma was premiered on 26 December 1831 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Although the opera’s premiere was not a great success, it is now performed frequently all over the world and is the Sicilian composer’s most successful work.
Norma represents a transition between serious traditional Italian opera and the innovations which Gluck introduced to opera. Furthermore, it is considered to be the best example of the bel canto tradition.
With this tragedy, Bellini has created a quintessential expression of romantic drama, which is especially evident with regard to the role of Norma. This is considered to be one of the most important female roles in the history of opera, both in terms of its vocal challenges (it is one of the most difficult in the soprano repertoire) and in terms of the range of conflicting feelings and emotions experienced by the protagonist: she is both priestess and mother, demonstrating both fraternal love and motherly love; she is an abandoned lover, wracked with jealousy and a desire for vengeance; and, finally, she is overcome with resignation. The role was created for the chief exponent of Italian bel canto, Giuditta Pasta (for whom Bellini also created the role of Amina in The Sleepwalker) and has since been performed by many great sopranos, such as Claudia Muzio, Rosa Raisa, Rosa Ponselle, Giulietta Simionato, Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Leyla Gencer, Montserrat Caballé and Edita Gruberová, among others.
Musically speaking, Norma is characterised by its sensitive instrumentation and by its dramatic melodies which are long, rich, beautifully ornamented and charged with emotion. It is worth mentioning the famous soprano aria Casta diva, one of the most well-known in the history of opera.
The action unfolds in Gaul during the period of Roman occupation (1st century B.C.) and revolves around the priestess Norma, daughter of the Arch-Druid priest. She is in love with Pollione, the Roman Proconsul in Gaul, who, unknown to anyone else, is the father of her children. However, Pollione is in love with the priestess Adalgisa. Norma tries to contain the rebellion against Roman rule in a desperate attempt to hold on to the man she loves.