SPOILER ALERT (but we don't see opera for the plot, anyway, now do we?)

The scene is Gaul, or perhaps Britain, during the Roman occupation.   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 "Casta Diva").

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 there.

The 1831 play Norma, L'infanticide by French playwright Alexander Soumet inspired librettist Felice Romani to approach his longtime collaborator, Vincenzo Bellini, to write an opera based on the play.

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.

Nor"ma (?), n. [L.]


A norm; a principle or rule; a model; a standard.

J. S. Mill.


A mason's or a carpenter's square or rule.


A templet or gauge.


© Webster 1913.

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