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Vincenzo Bellini 1801-1835

Tragedia lirica in two acts
Libretto by Felice Romani based on Alexandre Soumet's tragedy Norma ou L’Infanticide (1831)
World premiere: December 26 1831, La Scala Milan
1st performance of this production June 10 2018

Sung in Italian with German and English surtitles.  ca. 2hrs 45mins
Introductory talk, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin

The country has been suffering under the hated occupying forces' regime of terror for many years. Members of the resistance, operating underground, with little success, to liberate their country are exhausted and debilitated. Impatient, they call upon their leader Norma to give the signal to attack the enemy. They want open war, they want to risk body and soul. But Norma cautions restraint. A ceasefire, more than that: she longs for peace. Nobody knows that Norma has been in a secret relationship with Pollione, governor of the occupying forces, for years. Only her friend Clotilde has been let in on the secret, only Clotilde knows that they have two children. Norma hopes that this double life will end one day, so that she can bring up the children in freedom with their father. Norma has heard that Pollione has been ordered to return to his country. He has not said a word to her about this, and she has sensed, for some time, that his love for her is dying. And, indeed, Pollione is not planning to take Norma and the children with him, but another woman instead: Adalgisa; she too is a woman who is working against him underground, she too was seduced by the enemy, she too feels she has betrayed her country. Adalgisa, in her confusion, confides in Norma, whose severity and radicalism she admires. Without divulging who she is talking about, she admits that the love she feels deeply unsettles her, making her feel guilty about neglecting her faith and the struggle for liberation. Norma is moved by the young woman's emotional turmoil, recognising a lot of herself in her. But when it comes to light that the man Adalgisa loves is Pollione, who has just entered Norma's home to visit the children in secret, Norma gives vent to her long suppressed feelings. She curses Pollione, wishing death upon him. In the space of a few hours her mind has become so distraught that, to punish Pollione, she plans to kill both children. She recoils in horror at the last minute and, in her madness, devises a new plan: She will place the children in Adalgisa's care; they shall leave the country with Pollione. But Adalgisa, shattered by trying to come to terms with Pollione's dishonesty, wants to reconcile the couple, renouncing her own passion. She manages to convince Norma of her sincerity and promises to go to Pollione and beg him to return to his family. Norma allows herself to be carried away by Adalgisa's plan, dearly wanting to believe in renewed happiness. In the meantime Norma's father, Oroveso, who founded the group of partisans, receives news that a new governor, and even greater mililtary presence, will mean that a fight, let alone victory over the enemy, seems even more hopeless. When Norma hears that Adalgisa's plan has failed, and that Pollione is even more intent on conquering Adalgisa – by force if necessary – she summons her warriors: it is time for battle, war is the watchword. Preparations for the attack are underway when an enemy is discovered in the camp: It is Pollione who, blind with fury, has assaulted Adalgisa. Norma now has the powerful occupier and unfaithful husband in her clutches. She is prepared to kill him with her own hands but, before doing so, wants to torture him by denouncing Adalgisa as his lover and handing her over to her comrades, when her mind suddenly clears. She accuses herself of insincerity against her fatherland and is prepared to face punishment with Pollione. Pollione realises, in the face of death, that he loves Norma, and has always loved her. Norma manages to make her father promise to care for the children. Released at last, Norma finds happiness again, and takes her leave from life. Christof Loy

Bellini's Norma was long thought of as just a vehicle for divas – hardly surprising: the role is one of the most demanding in the genre. The work has been taken more seriously in recent years. It is about pressing questions which still occupy us today: how to deal with the contradictions between public office and private happiness? How much does responsibility for ones own children determine life? What role does religion play in society? What happens to the friendship between two women who love the same man? These themes are mirrored in the story about the Gallic seer Norma, who enters into a relationship with the Roman proconsul Pollione, her people's deadly enemy. When he betrays her love she goes through a jumble of emotions which climax in self sacrifice as an expression of the admission of her own guilt. Bellini found a musical language for the work that is truthful and deeply moving.