(but we don't see opera
for the plot
now do we?)
The scene is Gaul
, or perhaps Britain
, during the Roman
The Gauls are rebellious, and they approach the Druid high priestess, Norma
asking permission to revolt against the Romans. Norma urges her flock
to caution, however; the time is not right. Cutting sacred mistletoe
she prays to the moon goddess for peace (the beautiful aria
We learn that Norma has been having an affair with a Roman proconsul,
Pollione. Not only has she broken her vow of chastity, she
has secretly born Pollione two children.
In a scene fit for the Jerry Springer Show, Norma learns that Pollione
has switched his affections to a younger priestess, Adalgisa.
Although Adalgisa renounces Pollione, Norma is enraged and considers murdering
her children, but shrinks from such an awful deed. Adalgisa tries
to convince Pollione to go back to Norma, but instead, he kidnaps Adalgisa,
intent on taking her back to Rome.
This revives Norma's rage, and she incites the Gauls to rise against
the Romans, telling her flock that there is a traitor in their midst.
At the climactic moment, however, Norma reveals that she herself
is the traitor, and throws herself on the pyre readied to punish the
traitor. Pollione is so stricken by guilt that he joins her
play Norma, L'infanticide
by French playwright
inspired librettist Felice Romani
to approach his
longtime collaborator, Vincenzo Bellini
, to write an opera based on the
Norma debuted at La Scala, Milan, on December 26, 1831,
with Giuditta Pasta in the title role. Opening night was not a
great success; this has been attributed to the actions of Bellini's rival
Giovanni Pacini (who had written a vaguely similar opera ten years previously).
Outside Milan, however, the opera was a great success. An 1833
production in London, again starring Giuditta Pasta, was indeed a triumph.
Ironically, Giovanni Pacini's 1840 opera Saffo is said to be
heavily influenced by Norma.
Norma is a musical jewel, a shining example of the Romantic bel
canto style, and is now Bellini's best-known opera, part of the standard
repertoire of opera. In the late twentieth century, this lovestruck
high priestess, reminiscent of Medea, became the signature role of diva
Maria Callas, propelling her to fame.