LA Opera’s Norma – The Sweetest Music You’ll Ever Hear

If you are an opera buff, I strongly recommend you catch one of the last performances of Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma at the LA Opera

 

Norma (Angela Meade) is high priestess of the Druids, who have been subjugated by Rome

Sicilian music prodigy Bellini is not one of the first names you think of in the world of opera. He gave his first piano concert at age 6 and died at 34.  And like Mozart his genius blossomed early. And yet one wonders what more he could have done more with a prolonged life.

 

Norma and Pollione (Russell Thomas) have a love-hate marriage

The comic use of bel canto  (“beautiful singing,” melodies extended on and on) is one of my favorite styles, as in Rossini and Donizetti, and it was hard to imagine it used in a dramatic way.

Interpreting signs of the Moon is Norma's gift

 

With Bellini, the style of flowing melodic lines seems to reach perfection in this dramatic opera.  You might say it reaches a pinnacle  of  human dramatic expression. 

Norma discovers Pollione's dalliance with her friend Adalgisa

 

Bellini was given high praise by the likes of Verdi, “There are extremely long melodies as no one as ever made before.” Wagner, Liszt and Chopin were also his fans.

The technical vocal demands of this complex style are enormous.

 

Norma must choose between leadership and love

Added to those challenges, the character of Norma must convey constantly heightened emotions.  She expresses anger, grief, betrayal and hurt, along with her thoughts of murder, suicide, disappointment, frustration, remorse, embarrassment and also hopefulness. All the while, she is also projecting the power of her high political stature. As expressed by its star diva, Angela Meade, Norma is a big, giant iconic work. “Let’s call it Mount Everest,” she said.

Norma and her children by Pollione

 

Norma is also dramatically compelling in a most modern way. Although written in the 19th Century, Norma is all about women power.  The power of the lead priestess Norma, from her first scene, expresses her inner conflict of upright and strong leadership of her people. But she is emotionally torn by her love of  Pollione, the Roman proconsult in Gaul and the enemy of her people. 

And it continues from there - up to the height of drama where there are shades of Medea, where Norma comes close to slaughtering her  own children.

 

Norma and Adalgisa

And that is another way this opera differs from so many that move forward through convolutions of plot.  Norma revolves around the internal struggles of a powerful woman - actually, two powerful and strong women. Norma and Adalgisa, played powerfully and wonderfully by Jamie Barton, must make life-changing decisions that have reverberations throughout their community and history.

 

Pollione has fallen in love with Adalgisa

When you see LA Opera’s Norma, you will hear Bellini’s music performed and interpreted in a most gorgeous and unforgettable way. Especially notable for their pure beauty are the soprano duets between Meade as Norma and her best friend Adalgisa, sung by Barton.  Those performances alone are worth the price of admission.

 

Pollione is Roman proconsul of Gaul and conqueror of the Druids

 

Another wonderful surprise is the introduction of Russell Thomas as Pollione, the Roman lover at the heart of the matter.  What a powerhouse of a tenor! He is making his debut at LA Opera and we hope he returns soon. 

Oroveso (Morris Robinson) is a Druid leader

 

Oroveso is a, towering presence and bass voice on stage, wonderfully sung by Morris Robinson. He is the upright, strong representative of the Druid people and is also strong and delightful.

Norma in ceremonial gown with the Druid chorus

 

The chorus of Druid singers and dancers under the direction of chorus director Grant Gershon and choreographer Barney O’Hanlon add much to the atmosphere and beauty. The LA Opera orchestra is flawless under conductor James Conlon.

 

Photos by Ken Howard

Georja Umano is an actor and animal activist.

 


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