Go inside this production of Norma with engaging articles, opera notes, a complete plot synopsis, artist bios, and more.
I have been a devoted admirer of the bel canto repertoire for all of my operagoing life. In introducing Bellini’s glorious Norma – the second bel canto opera on this season’s schedule – an anecdote comes to mind.
In Harrod’s record department in London, when I was in my early teens, I was wandering around and was suddenly transfixed by an amazing voice. I’d never heard anything like this. It was Dame Joan Sutherland singing the heroine’s aria from Rossini’s Semiramide. That performance led me to investigate all the great works of bel canto, which remains to this day one of my greatest enthusiasms in opera.
Following our success with this season’s production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, we’re returning to bel canto with Norma (coincidentally, two works closely associated with Dame Joan, who had so much to do with shaping my love of bel canto singing). Norma stands with Lucia as arguably the greatest of all the more dramatic bel canto pieces. It celebrates the glory of great singing, uniting extraordinarily memorable melodies with vocal virtuosity within an intense romantic narrative.
Norma herself is the epitome of what makes bel canto so exciting for singers and so rewarding for audiences. The role requires the ultimate in vocal technique, but also the ultimate in emotional investment. To portray the Druid high priestess while doing full justice to Bellini’s music, stupendous vocal agility must be united with genuine theatrical grandeur, making Norma among the most challenging characters to sing and act in the entire operatic repertoire.
Of course, Norma is not a one-woman show; it needs an exceptionally strong team of principal artists to fulfill the vocal and dramatic demands. Pollione asks for a heroic machismo that makes him unique among bel canto tenors. Adalgisa has much ravishing music to sing (including three of bel canto’s most rewarding duets), and for the bass role of Oroveso a singer of innate majesty is required.
Our cast is made up of truly exceptional artists, from whom you can expect sensational singing. Our leading lady, Sondra Radvanovsky, has previously captivated Lyric audiences and critics alike in roles of Verdi and Donizetti, including her extraordinary portrayal of Anna Bolena two seasons ago. Since making her role debut as Norma in Spain in 2011, Sondra has become today’s pre-eminent interpreter of this formidable role, triumphing with it at the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, and most recently the Canadian Opera Company.
We’re so pleased to welcome back Ryan Opera Center alumna Elizabeth DeShong (Adalgisa), who is thrilling audiences internationally in bel canto roles. Like Sondra and Elizabeth, Andrea Silvestrelli (Oroveso) is a favorite at Lyric, and this season will be singing his first bel canto role with us. In tenor Russell Thomas (Pollione) we have a very eagerly awaited Lyric debut, following successes by this remarkable young American artist in many of the world’s most prestigious opera houses and concert halls.
Of course, Norma can’t succeed without brilliance from the pit and from the production team. Our debuting Italian conductor, Riccardo Frizza, has made bel canto a specialty in many major houses. We can fully expect him to bring to this work a marvelous authenticity of style that will hugely enhance our audiences’ experience. I am also thrilled to be presenting Norma in this magnificent new Lyric coproduction, directed by Kevin Newbury.
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TIME: 50 BCE
PLACE: Gaul, during the Roman occupation
Scene 1. Near a forest at night, the priest Oroveso leads the Druids in a prayer for revenge against the conquering Romans. After they have left, the Roman proconsul Pollione admits to his friend Flavio that he no longer loves the high priestess Norma, Oroveso’s daughter, with whom he has two children. He has fallen in love with a young novice priestess, Adalgisa, who returns his love.
The Druids assemble, and Norma prays to the moon goddess for peace. She tells her people that as soon as the moment for their uprising against the conquerors arrives, she herself will lead the revolt. At the same time, she realizes that she could never harm Pollione.
When the grove is deserted, Adalgisa appears and asks for strength to resist Pollione, who finds her crying and urges her to flee with him to Rome.
Scene 2. Norma tells her confidante Clotilde that Pollione has been recalled to Rome. She is afraid that he will desert her and their children. Adalgisa confesses to Norma that she has a lover. Recalling the beginning of her own love affair, Norma is about to release Adalgisa from her vows and asks for the name of her lover. As Pollione appears, Adalgisa answers truthfully. Norma’s kindness turns to fury. She tells Adalgisa about her own betrayal by the Roman soldier. Pollione confesses his love for Adalgisa and asks her again to come away with him, but she refuses and vows she would rather die than steal him from Norma.
Scene 1. Norma tries to bring herself to murder her children in their sleep to protect them from living in disgrace without a father. She changes her mind and summons Adalgisa, advising her to marry Pollione and take the children to Rome. Adalgisa refuses: she will go to Pollione, but only to persuade him to return to Norma and the women reaffirm their friendship.
Scene 2. Oroveso announces that a new commander will replace Pollione and tells the Druids that they must be patient to ensure the success of the eventual revolt.
Scene 3. Norma is stunned to hear from Clotilde that Adalgisa’s pleas have not persuaded Pollione. In a rage, the high priestess urges her people to attack the conquerors. Oroveso demands a sacrificial victim and Pollione is brought in. Alone with him, Norma promises him his freedom if he will leave Adalgisa and return to her. When he refuses, Norma threatens to kill him and their children. She tells the Druids that a guilty priestess must die, referring to herself. Moved by her nobility, Pollione asks to share her fate. Norma begs Oroveso to watch over her children and prepares to die with her lover.
Reprinted courtesy of San Francisco Opera