Vincenzo Bellini

Norma, opera

    Description by Jennifer Hambrick

    Bellini followed up the success of his tender comedy La Sonnambula with this grand and exotic tale. In its keen characterization and its dramatic conflict between love and patriotic duty it anticipates the major themes of several Verdi operas. The conflict in the opera is between the native Druids of Britain and the Roman soldiers who are occupying the country. The Druid leaders are Oroveso (the High Priest) and Norma (the High Priestess), and the main Romans are the Proconsul Pollione and his centurion Flavio. Norma was Vincenzo Bellini's eighth opera and the one that completely secured his fame and fortune as a composer. Although, according to some contemporary reviews, the audience responded coolly to some aspects of Norma at its first performance at Milan's La Scala opera house on December 26, 1831, the public soon warmed to it and made it a popular success. In the nineteenth century, musicians as diverse as Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi, Johannes Brahms, and Gustav Mahler, regarded Norma as a pivotal work. Today Norma is accepted as Bellini's most successful tragic opera.

    Felice Romani based the libretto on Alexandre Soumet's play of the same name, which had premiered in Paris in April 1831 to great critical acclaim. In 1998, David Kimbell noted that, despite this immediate literary source, the opera's plot and the nature of its title character have an earlier source in the Greek myth of Medea. Kimbell has also noted the distinct similarities between Romani's Norma and his text for Giovanni Pacini's opera La sacerdotessa d'Irminsul (1820).

    The music of Norma is laden with all of the conventions of Italian opera in the first half of the nineteenth century, including solo vocal arias and duets, some of which follow the prototypical Rossinian crescendo into full-fledged end-of-act choruses. After the introduction, Pollione's cavatina ("Meco all'altar di Venere") foreshadows the events of the opera. Its form is essentially ternary, with the C minor tonality, nervous violin tremolo, and rhythmically active lower strings of the B section contrasting with the C major tonality of the A section. But Bellini avoids a complete reprise of the A section, returning ultimately to the disturbing minor-mode inflections and nervous instrumental texture of the B material. Pollione's cavatina is paired with a cabaletta ("Me protegge, mi defende"), in which he sings of the protective power of love, in the heroic key of E flat major and triumphant dotted rhythms. Norma's famed cavatina, "Casta diva," a prayer to the moon goddess, is introduced by a silvery flute solo over undulating violin arpeggios. Rather than independently, as previously in "Va crudele, al Dio spietato"/"E tu pure, ah! tu non sai!," Pollione and Adalgisa together in their duet "Vieni in Roma"/"Ciel! Così parlar l'ascolto sempre" complete musical phrases: once Adalgisa agrees to go to Rome with Pollione, she is under his musical control. A similar concept governs the Act II duet between Adalgisa and Norma ("Mira, o Norma"/"Ah! perchè la mia costanza"), in which Norma's weakening resolve to allow Adalgisa to beg for Pollione's return is mirrored in her willingness to adopt Adalgisa's musical language. The finale of Act I consists of a trio in which Norma is musically pitted against Pollione and Adalgisa, and in that of Act II, Oroveso and the chorus of druids punctuate Norma's central aria ("Deh! Non voleri vittime") as she ascends her funeral pyre.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Sinfonia
    2. No. 2, Ite sul colle, o Druidi (Introduction)
    3. No. 3a, Svanir le voci!
    4. No. 3b, Meco all'altar di Venere (Cavatina)
    5. No. 3c, Me protegge me difende
    6. No. 4a, Norma viene
    7. No. 4b, Sediziose voci
    8. No. 4c, Casta diva (Cavatina)
    9. No. 4d, Fine al rito
    10. No. 4e, Ah! bello a me ritorna
    11. No. 5, Sgombra è la sacra selva
    12. No. 6a, Eccola! Va, mi lascia
    13. No. 6b, Va, crudele
    14. No. 7a, Vanne, e li cela entrambi
    15. No. 7b, Oh, Rimembranza!
    16. No. 7c, Sola, furtiva al tempio
    17. No. 8a, Tremi tu? E per chi?... Oh, non tremare
    18. No. 8b, Oh! di qual sei tu vittima, trio
    19. No. 8c, Perfido!... Or basti
    20. No. 9, Dormono entrambi (Introduction & scene)
    21. No. 10a, Me chiami, o Norma?
    22. No. 10b, Mira, o Norma
    23. No. 10c, Cedi! Deh, cedi!
    24. No. 10d, Sì, fino all'ore estreme
    25. No. 11a, Non parti!
    26. No. 11b, Guerrieri
    27. No. 11c, Ah! del Tebro
    28. No. 12, Ei tornera si
    29. No. 13, Guerra, guerra!
    30. No. 14a, In mia man
    31. No. 14b, Ah! Crudele
    32. No. 15a, All'ira vostra
    33. No. 15b, Qual cor tradisti
    34. No. 15c, Deh! Non volerli vittime

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Warner Classics 563851
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295844639
    2017 Warner Classics 9029584470
    2014 Warner Classics 634111
    2014 Warner Classics 634084
    2013 Decca
    2013 Decca 4783517
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099931925
    2012 Myto Records 00308
    2011 Decca
    2011 Decca 4783042
    2009 Sony Classical Essential Classics 88697446182
    2009 Brilliant Classics 93922
    2009 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 5099996670
    2009 Document 224007
    2009 Membran 231751
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 4778186
    2008 Myto Historical Line 142
    2008 Myto Records 7
    2008 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution 4767482
    2008 EMI Music Distribution 5626382
    2008 Myto Records 140
    2008 Dynamic 552/1-25
    2008 Angel Records / EMI Classics 7644192
    2008 Myto Records 153
    2007 BRV 9803
    2007 Bongiovanni 2551/52
    2007 BRV 9904
    2007 Allegro Corporation 9907
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 0946395918
    2006 Decca 475 7902DM3
    2006 Decca
    2005 Opera D'Oro 1433
    2005 Dynamic 469/1-2
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 55471
    2005 Nightingale Classics 040245
    2005 Myto Records 51306
    2005 IDIS 6460/61
    2005 Warner Classics / EMI Music Distribution 7243586834
    2005 IDIS 6449/58
    2005 Bella Voce 107214
    2004 Warner Fonit 43646
    2003 IDIS 6390/1
    2003 Myto Records MCD034286
    2003 Opera D'Oro 1374
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 62668
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 62642
    2003 Opera D'Oro 7003
    2002 Angel Records 57302
    2002 Grand Tier 4192
    2002 Myto Records 22260
    2002 Living Stage 35124
    2002 Decca
    2002 Decca 470 413-2DOC3
    2002 Archipel 64
    2002 Decca
    2001 Myto Records 14251
    2001 Gala Records 578
    2001 Fono Enterprise 1014-15
    2001 Opera D'Oro 1301
    2000 Myto Records 981177
    2000 Gala Records 100548
    2000 Gala Records 100523
    2000 Gala Records 100537
    2000 Myto Records 168
    2000 Urania 133
    2000 Opera Hommage 1830
    2000 Gala Records 511
    2000 Opera D'Oro 9004
    1999 Pearl 9422
    1999 Opera D'Oro 1183
    1999 Lyrica 1091
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 63000
    1998 EMI Music Distribution 66428
    1998 Golden Melodram 20015
    1997 Opera D'Oro 1140
    1997 Eklipse 18
    1997 Sony Music Distribution 35902
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 56271
    1996 Arkadia 78010
    1989 London 425 488-2DM3
    1987 RCA 6502
    1987 BMG International / RCA 86502
    1987 London 414476
    1985 EMI Music Distribution 47303
    On Stage 4704
    Mondo Musica 10281
    Melodram 26031
    Great Opera Performances 726
    Grammofono 2000 78583/84
    As Disc 2801
    Teatro Colon 101
    Serenissima 360179
    HRE Recordings 1007
    Gala Records 100511
    Golden Melodram 26025
    Melodram 26036
    Serenissima 360140
    Document 968/70
    6w 78
    Memories 4552
    Cetra 43
    EMI Music Distribution 47304
    Divina Records 3
    Cetra 2018
    Metromusica 2699062
    Deutsche Grammophon 0734219
    Decca 467 789-2DC10
    Legato Classics 203
    Arkadia 517