Sunday, October 15, 2017, 2:00 pm
“Ponselle, Milanov, Sutherland, Callas … after last night, Radvanovsky can add her name to the list,” declared the Huffington Post when Sondra Radvanovsky made her Met role debut as Norma in 2013. The 2017–18 season opens with a new production of Bellini’s masterpiece, starring Radvanovsky as the Druid priestess and Joyce DiDonato as her archrival, Adalgisa—a casting coup for bel canto fans. Tenor Joseph Calleja is Pollione, Norma’s unfaithful lover, and Carlo Rizzi conducts. Sir David McVicar’s evocative production sets the action deep in a Druid forest where nature and ancient ritual rule
COMPOSER: Vincenzo Bellini
LIBRETTIST: Felice Romani
Sung in ENGLISH
Estimated Run Time: 3 hrs 29 mins
The opera is set in Gaul (France) at the beginning of its occupation by the Roman Empire. Almost all of the characters are druids, members of the Gallic priesthood, the only exceptions being the tenors, both of whom are Romans. It is interesting that the Roman Empire, long depicted in European culture as a civilizing force, is here seen as corrupt and exploitative.
Norma is perhaps the archetypal bel canto opera, a style of singing that flourished in Italy in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Its principal features are beauty of tone, legato phrasing, and the delivery of florid ornamentation. The score of Norma is characterized by extraordinary melody punctuated by sharp moments of raw drama. The primary functions of the clear orchestral writing are to move the drama along with vigorous rhythm and to inform certain moments with feeling and emotion.
Gaul, 50 BCE, during the Roman occupation. In 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 (“Meco all’altar di Venere”). Flavio warns him against Norma’s anger. The Druids assemble and Norma prays to the moon goddess for peace (“Casta diva”). 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. He finds her crying and urges her to flee with him to Rome. She agrees to renounce her vows (Duet: “Vieni in Roma, ah! vieni, o cara”).
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 (Duet: “Sola, furtiva, al tempio”). 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 (Trio: “Oh! Di qual sei tu vittima”).
Norma, dagger in hand, tries to bring herself to murder her children in their sleep to protect them from living disgracefully without a father (“Teneri, teneri figli”). 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. Overcome by emotion, Norma embraces her, and the women reaffirm their friendship (Duet: “Mira, o Norma”).
The Druids assemble at their altar to hear Oroveso’s announcement that a new commander will replace Pollione. Oroveso rages against the Roman oppression, but tells the Druids that they must be patient to ensure the success of the eventual revolt (“Ah! del Tebro al giogo indegno”).
Norma is stunned to hear from Clotilde that Adalgisa’s pleas have not persuaded Pollione, and in a rage she urges her people to attack the conquerors. Oroveso demands a sacrificial victim, and just then Pollione is brought in, having profaned the sanctuary. Alone with him, Norma promises him his freedom if he will leave Adalgisa and return to her (Duet: “In mia man alfin tu sei”). When he refuses, Norma threatens to kill him and their children, and to punish Adalgisa. She calls in the Druids and tells them that a guilty priestess must die, then confesses that she is referring to herself. Moved by her nobility, Pollione asks to share her fate. Norma begs Oroveso to watch over her children, then leads her lover to the pyre.
Conductor: Carlo Rizzi
Production: Sir David McVicar
Set Designer: Robert Jones
Costume Designer: Moritz Junge
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable
Norma: Sondra Radvanovsky
Adalgisa: Joyce DiDonato
Pollione: Joseph Calleja
Oroveso: Matthew Rose