Norma - Further information
World Première on 26th December 1831, Teatro alla Scala, Mailand
Few sopranos in the history of opera have dared to tackle the challenges of the title role in Bellini's Norma. The extraordinary vocal and dramatic virtuosity required of each interpreter since the world première on 26th December 1831 at La Scala, Milan, has always been indisputable. The role is feared and respected as a supreme challenge for the greatest artists of last 125 years. All the more reason to rejoice, therefore, that today's belcanto "Prima Donna Assoluta", Edita Gruberova, will now tackle the role on the stage for the first time in her glorious career and do so at the Bavarian State Opera.
Bellini decided to adapt the contemporary French drama by Alexandre Sounet for this work only six months after Sounet’s play was premièred. As in the play, the drama of Norma takes place against the background of the Roman conquest of Gaul creating at once an ancient as well as an almost mystical atmosphere. The Druid High Priests and warriors of Gaul wait for an opportune moment to counter-attack their country's occupiers and rely for support on the magic and spiritual power of their Druid religion. However the political confrontation is but a backdrop for the personal conflict of Norma herself who is not only the high priestess of the Druids but has also been the secret, and now neglected, lover of the Roman Pro-Consul Pollione.
The title role of Norma requires not only a stunning coloratura technique but also vivid declamation and extreme histrionic talent. Vincenzo Bellini's melodic intensity always present in his work, is nowhere more impressively displayed as in the famous aria "Casta Diva ch'e in argente". It is through such impressive examples of vocal drama that Norma’s inner conflict so deeply affects us. When Norma discovers that Pollione, the father of her two children, has fallen in love with the young druid novice Adalgisa and is even planning to return to Rome with her, Norma's world collapses. Blind with rage she calls for total war at any cost and for the imprisoned Pollione to be sacrificed. Finally, however, she must take personal
responsibility for her share of the intrigue and, herself, goes to the stake to be burnt alive with her lover.
When one takes into account the emotional intensity and dramatic nature of this work it seems to us today incredible that, at the world première, the public re-
mained unmoved. The composer, however, was himself absolutely convinced that
Norma was his masterwork and since its first outing the work has become increasingly admired by the public. After a very long absence this great work returns to the repertory of the Bavarian State Opera in a new production directed and designed by Jürgen Rose. The première of this new production of the most important work of the belcanto will take place on 21st January 2006.
Sir Peter Jonas