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Norma is a tragedia lirica or opera in two acts by Vincenzo Bellini with libretto by Felice Romani after Norma, ossia L'infanticidio (Norma, or The Infanticide) by Alexandre Soumet. First produced at La Scala on December 26, 1831, it is generally regarded as an example of the supreme height of the Bel canto tradition. "Casta diva" was one of the most familiar arias of the nineteenth century.

Contents

Background

In a letter dated September 1, 1831, Bellini wrote the soprano Giuditta Pasta that "Romani believes [that this subject] will be very effective, and absolutely ideal for your encyclopedic character, because that is the kind of character Norma has". Indeed, Pasta's vocal and dramatic range was encyclopedic: that March, she had created the very different Bellini role of Amina, the lyrically vulnerable Swiss village maiden, in La sonnambula.

In the 19th century, it was common for composers to interpolate arias of their own into other composers' operas. Richard Wagner wrote an aria for bass and men's chorus for an 1837 production of Norma.[1]

The title role is generally considered one of the most difficult in the soprano repertoire. It calls for tremendous vocal control of range, flexibility, and dynamics. It contains a wide range of emotions: conflict of personal and public life, romantic life, maternal love, friendship, jealousy, murderous intent, and resignation. German soprano Lilli Lehmann once famously remarked on how the singing of all three Brünnhildes in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen in one evening was less stressful than the singing of one Norma.[2] However, her less famous reasoning was that "When you sing Wagner, you are so carried away by the dramatic emotion, the action, and the scene that you do not have to think how to sing the words. That comes of itself. But in Bellini, you must always have a care for beauty of tone and correct emission."

Throughout the 20th century, many singers have attempted the role of Bellini's tormented Druid priestess, with varying degrees of success. The following is a listing of some of the most renowned Normas, each of whom has brought her own strengths and weaknesses to the role. In the early 1920s, Rosa Raisa, Claudia Muzio, and Rosa Ponselle were each admired in the role. In the 1960s, two very different performers started donning the Druidess's robes: the Australian Joan Sutherland and Leyla Gencer. In the 1970s, four other bel canto specialists debuted their Normas: Radmila Bakočević, Montserrat Caballé, Beverly Sills, and Renata Scotto. Not to be dismissed lightly are Grace Bumbry and Shirley Verrett, the two famous African-American divas who began as mezzo-sopranos and eventually started singing soprano repertoire.

The most famous Norma of the postwar period, and arguably of the 20th Century, was Maria Callas, with 89 stage performances (several of which exist on recording), along with two studio recordings (made in 1954 and 1960).

During the 1980s and 1990s, the role of Norma was performed by such different singers as Katia Ricciarelli, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Marisa Galvany, Dame Gwyneth Jones, and Jane Eaglen. Contemporary Normas include Fiorenza Cedolins, Galina Gorchakova, Hasmik Papian, Maria Guleghina, Nelly Miricioiu, June Anderson, and Edita Gruberová. In 2008, Daniela Dessì performed as Norma at Teatro Comunale di Bologna.

Roles

Giulia Grisi as Norma. She debuted the role of Adalgisa in 1831.
Role Voice type Premiere cast, December 26, 1831
(Conductor: — )
Norma, daughter of Oroveso, High-priestess of the Celts soprano Giuditta Pasta
Adalgisa, priestess in the grove of the Irminsul statue soprano or mezzo-soprano Giulia Grisi
Pollione, Roman proconsul in Gaul tenor Domenico Donzelli
Oroveso, chief of the Druids bass Vincenzo Negrini
Clotilde, Norma’s friend soprano Marietta Sacchi
Flavio, Pollione’s companion tenor Lorenzo Lombardi

Synopsis

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Act 1

The grove.

A secret love unites the seeress Norma with Pollione, the Roman proconsul, by whom she has borne two children. But Pollione has grown tired of the aging druidess and has fallen in love with Adalgisa, a young temple virgin. Despite Adalgisa's piety and virtue, she agrees to flee to Rome with Pollione. Adalgisa innocently tells Norma of her love, and Norma curses Pollione for his treachery.

Act 2

Norma’s apartment.

Norma is about to kill her children, but her love for her children finally confides them to the care of Adalgisa. When Pollione comes to take Adalgisa from the temple, Norma denounces him and he is seized by the Druids, after having refused to give up Adalgisa. Norma proclaims herself equally guilty with him. The pyre is lighted, and ascending it, Norma dies with her lover.

Noted arias

Act 1
  • Sinfonia
  • Ite sul colle / Dell'aura tua profetica (Oroveso, chorus)
  • Meco all'altar di Venere (Pollione)
  • Me protegge, me difende (Pollione)
  • Casta diva, cavatina of Norma
  • Ah! bello a me ritorna (Norma, chorus)
  • Sgombra è la sacra selva (Adalgisa)
  • Va crudele, al dio spietato / E tu pure, ah, tu non sai (Pollione, Adalgisa)
  • Sola, furtiva al tempio, (Norma, Adalgisa)
  • Oh, non tremare o perfido (Norma, Adalgisa)
  • Oh! di qual sei tu vittima / Norma! De' tuoi rimproveri / Oh! qual traspare orribile, (Norma, Pollione, Adalgisa)
Act 2
  • Dormono entrambi! / Teneri figli (Norma)
  • Deh, con te, con te li prendi / Mira, o Norma / Cedi! Deh, cedi! / Si fino all'ore estreme, (Norma, Adalgisa)
  • Guerra, guerra! Le galliche selve (chorus)
  • In mia man alfin tu sei (Norma and Pollione)
  • Deh! non volerli vittime, finale (Norma, Oroveso, Pollione, chorus)

Recordings

Year Cast
(Norma, Pollione, Adalgisa, Oroveso)
Conductor,
Opera House and Orchestra
Label
1937 Gina Cigna,
Giovanni Breviario,
Ebe Stignani,
Tancredi Pasero
Vittorio Gui,
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio di Torino
Audio CD: Aura/Lyrica
ASIN: B00001ZWJ3
1952 Maria Callas,
Mirto Picchi,
Ebe Stignani,
Giacomo Vaghi
Vittorio Gui,
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus and Orchestra
Audio CD: EMI Classics
ASIN: B0000BWTK9
1954 Maria Callas,
Mario Filippeschi,
Ebe Stignani
Nicola Rossi-Lemeni
Tullio Serafin,
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala
Audio CD: EMI Classics
ASIN: B000002RXP
1955 Maria Callas,
Mario del Monaco,
Ebe Stignani,
Giuseppe Modesti
Tullio Serafin,
Milan Radio Symphony Orchestra
Audio CD: Opera d'Oro
ASIN: B0000DEQXC
  Maria Callas,
Mario del Monaco,
Giulietta Simionato,
Nicola Zaccaria
Antonino Votto,
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala
Audio CD: Istituto Discografico Italiano
ASIN: B0009J2RSU
1960 Maria Callas,
Franco Corelli,
Christa Ludwig,
Nicola Zaccaria
Tullio Serafin,
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala
Audio CD: EMI Classics
ASIN: B00000630R
1964 Joan Sutherland,
John Alexander,
Marilyn Horne,
Richard Cross
Richard Bonynge,
London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: Decca
ASIN: B000I8OFGE
1964 Leyla Gencer,
Bruno Prevedi,
Adriana Lazzarini,
William Wildermann
Bruno Bartoletti,
Orquesta y Coro Estables del Teatro Colon
Audio CD: Myto Records
1972 Montserrat Caballé,
Plácido Domingo,
Fiorenza Cossotto,
Ruggero Raimondi
Carlo Felice Cillario,
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Ambrosian Opera Chorus
Audio CD: RCA Victor
Cat: 6502-2 RG
1973 Beverly Sills,
Enrico Di Giuseppe,
Shirley Verrett,
Paul Plishka
James Levine,
New Philarmonia Orchestra, John Alldis Choir
Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon
1974 Montserrat Caballé,
Jon Vickers,
Josephine Veasey
Agostino Ferrin
Giuseppe Patanè,
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio di Torino
DVD: VAI
ASIN: B000083C73
1979 Renata Scotto,
Giuseppe Giacomini,
Tatiana Troyanos,
Paul Plishka
James Levine,
National Philarmonic Orchestra, Ambrosian Opera Chorus
Audio CD: SONY
1984 Joan Sutherland,
Luciano Pavarotti,
Montserrat Caballé,
Samuel Ramey
Richard Bonynge,
Orchestra and Chorus of the Welsh National Opera
Audio CD: Decca
ASIN: B0000041QF
2001 June Anderson,
Shin Young Hoon,
Daniela Barcellona,
Ildar Abdrazakov
Fabio Biondi,
Teatro Regio di Parma
DVD: TDK
ASIN: B00007M5K0

Note: "Cat:" is short for catalogue number by the label company; "ASIN" is amazon.com product reference number.

References

  1. ^ Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed., 1954
  2. ^ Interview between Edward Downes and Maria Callas. La Divina Complete, CD 4. EMI Classics.

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