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Theatre / Norma

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Maria Callas, La Divina, as Norma.

Norma is a two-act opera by Vincenzo Bellini, set to a libretto by Felice Romani. Based on Alexandre Soumet's play Norma, ou L'infanticide, it is the quintessential opera of the bel canto period, and the lead role herself is the prolific diva role in the soprano repertoire.

The opera takes place in ancient Gaul, under Roman occupation. Norma, the high-priestess of the Druids and daughter of the Druid Chief Oroveso, had fallen in love with Pollione, a Roman official, and gave birth to his two children in secret.

By the time the opera opens up, the Druids are preparing to go to war against the Romans. In the meantime, Pollione reveals to his companion Flavio that he has lost all interest in Norma, and that he has started an affair with Adalgisa, another virgin priestess. Later on, Norma and the Druids come to pray to the goddess of victory, where Norma sings her ever-famous aria, "Casta Diva".


Meanwhile, Adalgisa is torn between her love for Pollione and her loyalty to Norma, when Pollione comes to her and begs her to elope with him to Rome. Adalgisa ends up paying a visit to Norma in her home, and asks to be released from her vows, saying that she's found love with someone. But just as Norma agrees to do so, Pollione arrives, and Norma realizes that Pollione has betrayed her, while Adalgisa realizes that Pollione had once pledged herself to Norma. Act I ends in a furious confrontation, with Norma cursing Pollione and Adalgisa rejecting him as he begs her to elope with him.

Later on, Norma is torn over what to do. She tries to tell Adalgisa to take her children and go live with Pollione in Rome, but Adalgisa cannot bring herself to do so, wanting Pollione to reunite with Norma instead. But her efforts to convince Pollione fail, and so Norma declares war against the Romans just as Pollione is caught in the Druid temple. But in order to complete the rites to go to war, they must sacrifice someone. Norma reveals that she has broken her sacred vows, and admits to having borne two children from Pollione. As she prepares to die on the sacrificial pyre, Pollione's love for her is revived, and so he joins her on the pyre as the opera ends in a grand finale.


After its premiere at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1831, the opera quickly became immensely popular in Europe. And the bel canto revival in the 20th century gave way to many prolific divas performing the notoriously-difficult titular role, including Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills, and Montserrat Caballé. Today, the opera continues to be widely performed around the world, with some of the famous modern interpretations being those of Cecilia Bartoli, Sondra Radvanovsky, and Mariella Devia.

The opera contains examples of:

  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Oroveso is the Chief of the Druids, and he wants to plan a revolution against the Romans, so this definitely counts.
  • Badass Baritone: Oroveso, Norma’s father and the Druid Chief, is sung by a bass.
  • Burn the Witch!: Norma dies on a pyre for breaking her vows as a priestess and becoming involved with Pollione, who also dies on the pyre with her.
  • Crowd Song: The opening song in the first scene of Act I, “Ite sul colle, o Druidi”, and the subsequent song, “Dell’aura tua profetica”.
  • Druid: Norma, Adalgisa, Clotilde, and Oroveso are Druids. In general, the opera takes its liberties in regards to the culture and history of the druids, as part of the works of the Celtic revival that was popular in the Romantic era.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Oroveso, a bass role, seems to be more along the lines of an anti-villain than a straight-up villain.
  • Face Death with Dignity: How Norma prepares for her death in the pyre.
  • Forbidden Fruit: Norma is a priestess, but she’s broken her vows and had an affair with Pollione, a Roman soldier.
  • Foreshadowing: Pollione’s aria, “Meco all’altar di Venere”, where he tells Flavio about a dream he has, where Adalgisa is beside him at the alter of Venus when a huge storm strikes, and he believes it presages disaster for the both of them.
  • Give Him a Normal Life: Norma wants Adalgisa to take her children to the Roman camp for Pollione in the hopes that he’ll be a good father to them and a better partner to Adalgisa. However, Adalgisa refuses, and renounces Pollione to remain with Norma.
  • Glass-Shattering Sound: Subverted. Norma sings a soft high B-flat in a cadenza. And at the very end of the opera, Norma sings a high note as she leaps onto the pyre.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In Act II, Norma declares that she is the priestess who has broken her vows, and sacrifices herself on the pyre so that the Druids can go to war.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Norma and Adalgisa are the female version of this trope.
  • High Priest: Norma is the high priestess of the Druids.
  • Incredibly Long Note: "Casta Diva" has quite a bit of these.
    • In fact, the role of Norma is not only the quintessential bel canto soprano role, but it’s also one of the most taxing, difficult roles in the soprano repertoire. German soprano Lilli Lehmann even said that singing all of three Brünnhilde roles of Wagner’s Ring cycle operas in one evening is less stressful than singing one Norma. Renata Scotto has even called it “the Everest of opera”, because the role requires years of training for the soprano to have strong breath control, do various vocal tricks, and then sing a soft high B-flat in the cadenza. And above all, the role requires a strong acting skill to convey Norma’s strength and vulnerability as well. Maria Callas is considered one of the best Normas of all times, and she’s sung the role more than 90 times and has even recorded the opera twice.
  • Jerkass: Pollione. Despite the fact that Norma has broken her vows as a priestess and secretly gave birth to his children, he abandons her in favour of Adalgisa, another priestess. Understandably, Norma is furious with him for his betrayal.
  • Love Triangle: Norma/Pollione/Adalgisa.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: “Qual cor tradisti” is sung by Norma, Pollione, Oroveso, and the entire chorus.
  • Offing the Offspring: Averted. Norma briefly considers killing her children, but she cannot bring herself to do it. But in Act III, Norma threatens Pollione with killing the children if he doesn’t shun Adalgisa forever.
  • Protagonist Title: Norma, of course.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Pollione’s love for Norma is rekindled when Norma sacrifices herself, and he joins her on the pyre to die with her.
  • Secret Relationship: At first, Norma was in a secret relationship with Pollione. Then, Adalgisa and Pollione get into a secret relationship.
  • Tenor Boy: Pollione.
  • Together in Death: Norma and Pollione die on the pyre together in Act II.
  • Triang Relations: Type 7. Pollione is in a relationship with Norma, and also with Adalgisa. Neither Norma nor Adalgisa knew about this, and when they find out, they both angrily confront Pollione about it, with Adalgisa being furious on Norma’s behalf.
  • Vow of Celibacy: Norma is a high-priestess, so this means that she’s forbidden from having a relationship. However, not only has she broken her vows to have an affair with Pollione, but she’s also given birth to his children. Likewise, Adalgisa herself has made these sacred vows, and if she wishes to pursue a relationship, she has to ask to be released from them.
  • Woman Scorned: Norma downplays this a bit; she’s definitely hurt and upset with Pollione, and the aria she sings as she prepares to die on the pyre, “Qual cor tradisti”, literally translates to “The heart you betrayed".
  • Your Cheating Heart: By the time the opera opens up, Pollione is cheating on Norma with Adalgisa, despite knowing that Norma has given birth to his kids.

Example of: