Vincenzo Bellini

Design: Kara Walker, Massimo Gasparon, Pier Paolo Bisleri

Vincenzo Bellini, Norma (2011)
Director: Mario Pontiggia
Conductor Fabrizio Maria Carminati

Cast: Dimitra Theodossiu
Fabio Sartori
Ruxandra Donose
Carlo Colombara

Like the rest of the world, Bellini himself regarded Norma as his masterpiece. If on a shipwrecked boat, he once said, be had only one or his operas to rescue, that one would be Norma.
 

And tbough today it strikes most of us as a vehicle for a great soprano, with some very wonderful arias and concerted numbers but with the most unrealistic and formalized plot, it was not always so. "This opera among all the creations of Bellini,n wrote one nineteenth-century critic, "is the one which, with the most profound reality, joins to the richest vein of melody the most intimate passion." The critic was Richard Wagner.
 

Whatever one may think of the way the composer took dramatic advantage of the genuinely dramatic situations offered him by the librettist, his score has always presented a worthy challenge to the greatest singers for more than a century and a quarter. The first Norma was Giuditta Pasta, who saved the first performances in both Milan and London through her magnificent performance. It later became one of her bestloved roles; and when she was too old to sing it, the mostadmired Norma became Giulia Grisi, who had sung the role of Adalgisa at the premiere. Maria Malibran also liked to star in the role—so much so that the memorial statue erected to her by her husband at Laeken presents her in the costume of Norma. Jenny Lind often attempted the role, though one would hardly think that the Swedish nightingale's generally placid stage temperament would suit the passionate Druid priestess; and Lilli Lehmann sang it often but bad so much respect for its difficulties that she said it took more out of her than singing all three of the Ring's Brunhildes.
 

In more recent times revivals of the opera have been especially staged for such outstanding sopranos as Rosa Raisa, Rosa Ponselle, and Zinka Milanov. And in 1956, after years of dickering with Maria Meneghini Callas, the Metropolitan finally secured her signature to a contract to open as Norma. She had a triumph.

Roles

NORMA
 

Opera in four acts by Vincenzo Bellini
with libretto in Italian by Felice Romani,
based on a French play of the same name by Louis Alexandre Soumet

 

Norma, High Priestess of the druidical temple
Oroveso, her father, the Archdruid 

Clotilda, her confidante

Pollione, Roman Proconsul in Gaul
Adalgisa, a virgin of the temple
Flavio, a centurion


Time: about 50 b.c.

Place: Gaul

First performance at Milan, December 26, 1831

Characters

Norma:
 

Soprano. High Priestess, daughter of the druid Oroveso. Has borne two children to the Roman Pollione, who has now fallen in love with the acolyte Adalgisa. Normasacrifices herself in the cause of winning a battle and Pollione mounts the pyre and joins her in the flames. Aria: Casta Diva (‘Chaste goddess’); duet (with Adalgisa): Mira, o Norma! (‘See, Norma’). Created ( 1831 ) by Giuditta Pasta.

Maria Callas - Norma - Casta Diva - Bellini - 1954

Oroveso:

 

Bass. High Priest of the temple and father of Norma. Wants to wage war against the Romans, not knowing that his daughter is in love with a Roman. Created (1831) by Vincenzo Negrini.

Clotilde:

 

Soprano. Norma's confidante. Created (1831) by Marietta Sacchi.

Pollione:

 

Tenor. Roman proconsul in Gaul, former lover of Norma and father of her two children. Has deserted her for Adalgisa, an acolyte in the temple. When Norma decides to sacrifice herself in the cause of the Gauls defeating the Romans, Pollione realizes he still loves her and joins her in the flames. Created (1831) by Domenico Donzelli.

Adalgisa:

 

Soprano. An acolyte of the temple. Pollione's love for her makes him reject Norma, the High Priestess. Adalgisa is horrified to realize that Pollione was Norma's lover and determines to send him back to her, but fails. Duet (with Norma): Mira, o Norma, ai tuoi ginocchi (‘See, Norma, at your knees’).  Created (1831) by Giulia Grisi.

Joan Sutherland as Norma and Montserrat Caballé as Adalgisa singing the duet "Mira o Norma" from Norma by Bellini. Conductor Richard Bonynge, Studio Record, 1984

Flavio:

Tenor. Centuruon.
 

                                        Synopsis

 

OVERTURE
 

The overture used to occupy a fairly prominent place in the standard repertoire of popular concerts. As the opera deals in conflicts between martial and amatory sentiments, the music of the overture presents a similar contrast, and it also makes use of the opening chorus of the Druid priests.

ACT I

The story takes us back to approximately 50 b.c., when, as you may recall from your high-school Caesar, the Roman legions were busy occupying Gaul. It is nighttime, and the Druids, to martial music, gather in their sacred forest, before the sacred tree of their god, Irminsul. They are led by their high priest, Oroveso, who expects them to rise against the Romans. He tells them that Norma, the High Priestess and his own daughter, will, at the right moment, perform the rite of Cutting the sacred mistletoe, and this shall be thq signal for the rising.

BELLINI - NORMA
 

Norma - MARIA CALLAS
Pollione - MARIO DEL MONACO
Adalgisa - GIULIETTA SIMIONATO
Oroveso - NICOLA ZACCARIA
Clotilde - GABRIELLA CARTURAN
Flavio - GIUSEPPE ZAMPIERI

 

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala
Direttore - ANTONINO VOTTO

Milano - Teatro alla Scala

7 dicembre 1955

When the Druids have departed, the Roman proconsul, Pollione, enters with his friend, the centurion Flavio. From their conversation we learn that Роllionе is, secretly, the father of Norma's two children, but he is now in love with the vestal virgin Adalgisa. In the aria Meco all'altar di Venere he relates how bis dream of being with Adalgisa in Rome bothers bis conscience. At its close we heat (he sacred bronze shield sounding to summon thе Druids once more, and the two Romans depart.

The familiar March from Norma is now played, as the Druids gather once more to listen to their priestess. In a noble recitative, Norma tells them that the time to rise has not yet come, for Rome is to be defeated by its own vices. Then follows the famous aria Casta Diva, which Bellini is said to have rewritten eight times before he was satisfied with it. She begins by invoking the moon and calling for peace. Then, as the chorus cries out against the Romans, she sings—for herself alone-of the love she bears the Roman proconsul, Pollione.
 

When the priests have again departed, Adalgisa, Pollione's new love, is left alone, and she prays for help from the gods. There Pollione finds her; and in the eloquent duet that closes the act (Va, crudele) he persuades her to follow him to Rome.

ACT II
 

Norma has raised the Roman Pollione's two children in a secret home with the aid of her confidante, Clotilda. As the second act opens, she tells Clotilda that she both loves and hates these children, for she fears that Pollione will leave for Rome and desert her. Now the young priestess, Adalgisa, sworn to chastity, enters. She confides in Norma, saying that she is in love. Norma, commiserating, promises to release her from her vows, but Adalgisa mentions that her lover is about to depart for Rome. At once Norma is suspicious. Who can this lover be? "There he is," says Adalgisa as Pollione enters. An exciting trio develops, as Norma curses Pollione for his faithlessness, Pollione, conscience-stricken, begs Norma not to reproach him before Adalgisa, and Adalgisa herself is filled with remorse. The sacred bronze shield is heard once more, as it is struck to summon Norma to her priestly duties, and the act closes.

Vincenzo Bellini - Norma

Sydney Opera House, Australia, 1978

 

Norma - Joan Sutherland
Oroveso - Clifford Grant
Adalgisa - Margareta Elkins
Pollione - Ron Stevens
Clothilde - Etela Piha
Flavio - Trevor Brown

The Australian Opera Chorus
The Elisabethan Sydney Orchestra
Conductor - Richard Bonynge
Director - Sandro Sequi
TV Director - William Fitzwater

ACT III
 

It is nighttime lh Norma's secret home, and after a prelude she enters carrying a lamp in one hand and a dagger in the other. To revenge herself on the faithless Pollione, the High Priestess has decided to murder their two children as they sleep. But as she bends over them, she cannot bring herself to do the horrid deed, for they are not only Pollione's children, they are her own as well. Quickly she sends Clotilda for Adalgisa. Norma has decided to die, and she commands Adalgisa to marry Pollione and take the children with her. Moved by Norma's nobility, Adalgisa refuses. In the great duet Mira, O Norma, she begs for pity on the two children, and she offers to bring Pollione back to Norma. The act closes as the two priestesses embrace.

"NORMA" - Vincenzo Bellini

Montserrat Caballé--Norma
Plácido Domingo--Pollione
Fiorenza Cossotto--Adalgisa
Ruggero Raimondi--Oroveso
Carlo Felice Cillario--Conductor

London Philharmonic Orchestra
1972

ACT IV
 

The last, dramatic act takes place, like the first, in the sacred forest of the Druids, before the altar of the great god Irminsul. The assembled warriors of Gaul cry for war against the Romans. Oroveso, the High Priest and father of Norma, alone advises patience. They leave; and then, at the altar itself, Norma awaits Pollione's return. But her confidante, Clotilda, brings news that Adalgisa has failed—that Pollione refuses to return to Norma. In great anger Norma now summons the priests and soldiers by striking the sacred shield. She calls for war - Guerra, guerra! - and for blood—Sangue, sangue!

 

At this point Clotilda reports that a Roman has been found in the cloister of the Druid virgins. Pollione turns out to be the transgressor, and the Gauls demand his death. But Norma desires first to question him alone. She offers her former lover either death or his life—if he will leave Gaul without Adalgisa.

Vincenzo Bellini - Norma

Das Nationaltheaters in München (2006)
Conductor– Friedrich Haider

Pollione, Roman proconsul in Gaul –
Zoran Todorovich
Oroveso, chief druid –
Roberto Sandiuzzi
Norma, druidess, daughter of Oroveso –
Edita Gruberova
Adalgisa, young priestess at the Temple of Irminsul –
Sonia Ganassi
Clotilde, Norma's confidante –
Cynthia Jansen
Flavio, friend to Pollione –
Markus Herzog
Norma and Pollione's sons –
Michael Kohl, Stefan Kohl

Das Bayerische Staatsorchester
Der Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper
Die Statisterie der Bayerischen Staatsoper

Pollione scorns this offer: he is not afraid to die. But when Norma threatens to take the life of Adalgisa as well, he attempts to seize her sword. Norma thereupon summons the soldiers and priests once more. She tells them that a priestess has violated her vows, and that she must be burned to deaths Pollione, believing her to be about to name Adalgisa as the erring priestess, tries to stop her. But with a great gesture Norma announces that she herself is the offending priestess, and that she must die—and she commends the care of her children to her father, Oroveso.
 

Only then does Pollione understand the greatness of the woman's spirit, and he says that he will die with her. The funeral pyre is prepared, and—united again—the lovers, Norma and Pollione, mount to their death.

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