I saw Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma on DVD last night: another utterly enjoyable opera which moved me by its music and fascinated me by its story too.
This is an ancient tale long Before the Common Era when the Romans were in Gaul as occupiers. At the time the Druids were practicing their religion in Gaul, or so we gather from this opera. I suspect that Alexandre Soumet took some liberties with ancient history when he wrote the story of Norma with another title also: the Infanticide. Actually there was only the threat of infanticide which was emotionally jolting, but was not central to the story.
They had a priestess by the name of Norma. The Roman consul Pollione falls in love with Norma, and the two have had two children (they looked like twins) when the opera opens. In fact, by now Pallione’s fancies had shifted to a younger lady at the temple, by the name of Adalgisa. She reciprocates the Roman’s advances, and is all ready to go with him to his country, abandoning her Druid heritage.
She reports her new-found amour to the elder Norma who is very happy for her and wishes her well, until she discovers that the object of her love is also Pollione, the Roman Consul who had fathered her kids. Now Norma becomes furious and sings angrily about the Roman’s disloyalty.
In her frustration she decides to kill her beautiful little children with her dagger, but is unable to do that. Instead she begs Adalgisa to take the children with her and not let them become Roman slaves. When Pollione come to the temple to take the younger Druid back to Roma, Norma condemns him. The Druids snare him, but Norma declares she too is guilty of trespassing Druid vows of temple chastity and is willing jump into the pyre as atonement. Pollione recognizes her true character, repents that he had not fully know her before, and with operatic exuberance decides to follow her to the fire in the pyre. The opera ends with his climactic fire and the customary death aria.
Dame Joan Sutherland, the great (Australian) Diva of yester-generation sang absolutely wonderfully well as did the Turkish Leila Gencer. The scenes were modest, the orchestra under the baton of Richard Bonynge was at its best, all the bel canto was thoroughly delightful, and the choruses were remarkable too.
The aria Oh! di qual sei tu vittima Norma! De’ tuoi rimproveri, Oh! qual traspare orribile, which Norma, Pollione, Adalgisa belted out was truly magnificent.
Deh, con te, con te li prendi , Mira, o Norma, Cedi! Deh, cedi!, Si fino all’ore estreme, sung by Norma and Adalgisa was truly simply superb.
June 25, 2012