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Vincenzo Bellini 1801—1835

Tragedia lirica in 2 acts
Libretto by Felice Romani after Alexandre Soumet
First performed December 26 1831, Teatro alla Scala, Milan

This production first seen June 10 2016

Sung in Italian with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks (in German) begin in the Holzfoyer 30 mins before curtain up, and appear here shortly before opening night

The country has 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 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 hasn't 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 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's 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's time for battle, war is the watchword. Preparations for the attack are underway when an enemy is discovered in the camp: It's 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 was convinced that voices in operas should make one »weep, tremble and die«. His score for Norma couldn’t have fitted the bill better. Belcanto at its most beautiful, combined with a character study of a rejected woman. The gallic seer Norma loves Pollione, one of the enemy. She’s furious when he leaves her for Adalgisa, a younger woman. At the end of Norma’s emotional roller-coaster her former lover sacrifices his life to die with her. If the opera was viewed for a long time as a vehicle for divas, its truly dramatic content has been better appreciated in recent years. Christof Loy negotiates the psychological nuances of the work creating a thrilling intimate production which, with Bellini’s music, goes straight to your heart.