18 Jan 2009

BELLINI: Norma — Roma 1955

Norma: Tragedia lirica in two acts.

Music composed by Vincenzo Bellini (1801–1835). Libretto by Felice Romani, from Norma ou L’infanticide (1831) by Alexandre Soumet.

First Performance: 26 December 1831, Teatro alla Scala, Milan.

Principal Characters:

Pollione, Proconsole di Roma nelle Gallie Tenor
Oroveso, capo dei Druidi Bass
Norma, Druidessa, figlia di Oroveso Soprano
Adalgisa, giovine ministra del tempio d’Irminsul Soprano
Clotilde, confidente di Norma Mezzo-Soprano
Flavio, amico di Pollione Tenor
Due fanciulli, figli di Norma e di Pollione Silent roles

Time and Place: Ancient Gaul during the Roman conquest.


Act I

In a forest in Gaul, at the time of the Roman conquest, the head of the Druids, Oroveso, announces to his people that the priestess Norma, his daughter, is about to reveal the will of the god Irminsul: all are hoping that the time has come to rebel against their oppressors. Meanwhile the Roman proconsul Pollione confides to his friend Flavio that he no longer loves Norma, in spite of the two children she has borne him and who live hidden in Norma’s house, their existence a secret, but loves Adalgisa, a young priestess in the temple of Irminsul. Pollione fears Norma’s anger, and recounts a dream in which she slaughters their children. Rut the sound of the sacred gong is heard announcing Norma’s arrival, and the two Romans disappear into the forest. Now all the Druids are gathered, eager to be given the signal to revolt; but Norma reveals that the time for war has not yet come, and by the light of the moon she performs the sacred rite of cutting the mistletoe, invoking peace — a peace that is necessary for her to consolidate her secret liaison with Pollione. When Adalgisa is left alone she anguishes over her illicit love; Pollione arrives and eventually persuades her to follow him to Rome.

In her dwelling Norma looks anxiously at her children: she knows that Pollione must leave, but she has received no message from him, and is afraid that he no longer loves her as he once did. Adalgisa arrives, and cannot conceal that she has betrayed her vocation as a priestess and yielded to love. Norma understands her and reassures her, and releasing her from her vows she encourages her to follow the man she loves. But what is his name? Adalgisa indicates Pollione, who is approaching at that moment. At this tragic revelation Norma threatens revenge, and Pollione vainly tries to defend himself. Adalgisa, who knew nothing of Pollione’s former love for Norma, is deeply distressed, and reassures Norma with generous words that she will break off all relations with the faithless Roman.

Act II

In her despair, Norma wishes she could kill her children: she is afraid, they will be turned into slaves in Rome, and also wishes to make Pollione suffer terribly. But she cannot bring herself to carry out the mad deed. She calls Adalgisa, and asks her to agree to marry Pollione and to keep the children with her; but Adalgisa no longer loves the Roman, and undertakes instead to rekindle his love for Norma. In the forest the warriors are ready to attack the Romans and kill the proconsul, but Oroveso has to stop them: Norma continues to remain silent about the decisions of Irminsul.

In the temple of Irminsul Norma learns from her friend Clotilde that Adalgisa’s attempt has failed, and that Pollione is planning to abduct the girl. Norma has an overwhelming desire for revenge, and calls all her people together: it is the signal for war. Pollione is immediately taken prisoner, guilty of having broken into the cloister of young priestesses. It, is Norma who will have to sacrifice him, but first she must interrogate him and asks to be left alone with the guilty man. Norma promises to save Pollione’s life if he will give up Adalgisa, but Pollione refuses and invites Norma to kill him, urging her to have, mercy on Adalgisa. Norma summons back her people and announces that there is another culprit, a priestess who has broken her vows: after a moment’s hesitation she does not say Adalgisa’s name, but her own. Only now does Pollione understand the nobility of the woman he has betrayed, and feels that he loves her again. Norma entrusts her children to her father Oroveso, who tearfully forgives her, and she serenely mounts the pyre with Pollione.

Click here for the complete libretto.

Click here for an English translation of the libretto.

Click here for the vocal score.