Norma


This Role is from the Opera :
Norma


The Voice Type for this Role is :
Soprano


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NORMA

FACTS: Norma is the High Priestess of the Druid cult, the oracle of the god’s will.

(Where stage directions are quoted, they appear in ‘italics’.)

CHARACTER EVOLUTION: By the time she appears, Norma has been introduced both as a powerful priestess and force to be reckoned with, and a jilted lover (although she does not know this yet herself.) Surprisingly, her first speech calls the Druids to stop their calls for war. She stamps her authority on the followers immediately: “Who presumes to questions the words of Norma, and wishes to hasten the fate of Rome?” She is clear that such as change “Will not come through the efforts of man.” She advises patience, but is it through political and military aptitude or simply for her own self interest in keeping Pollione with her? ”The Roman spears are still stronger than the axes of the Druids.” Certainly, she is correct in her prophetic announcement that “Proud Rome will die, but not at your hands. She will perish because of her own vices, consumed by them.” She and the Priestesses pray for calm and peace: “O god, quell the inflamed hearts and the ardent zeal of your people.” (Casta diva)

However, when the Druids single out the Proconsul as the first to die, Norma reveals in an aside her own feelings: “Yes, I shall punish him (but my heart will not allow me).” She realises that their love has faded “Bring back the warmth and peace of love again.” Only when the god’s thunder sounds, she says, will she proclaim the call to arms.

Norma has a constant reminder of Pollione at home, their two sons. “I love my children, yet I also hate them! I suffer when I see them, and also when I don’t … If I could only forget these sons of his!” She must keep her children hidden: “Someone is coming. Go quickly hide them.” Adalgisa has come to tell Norma of her love for a man. As she tells of her awakening feelings, Norma recognises her own story in that of the young priestess:
Adalgisa: I found a new heaven in his face.
Norma: (O what memories! When I first saw his face, I felt that too.)

Perhaps recognising her own situation has made Norma more understanding:
Norma: I free you from your vows, I break the sacred bonds that hold you.
Adagisa: You have given me life again, if my love is no sin.

However, when Adalgisa mentioned Pollione by name, the situation changes rapidly: she flies in anger not at Adalgisa but her faithless lover: “She is not to blame, you are the traitor. Tremble, traitor, for yourself, your children, for me…” (Trio: Oh, di qual sei tu vittima … Vanne, si, mi lascia)

Pollione’s pathetic proclamations of suffering cut no ice with the furious Norma: “Worthless man! Forget your children, your vows, your honour … Day and night my fury will furiously fly around you.” As the god’s thunder sounds from the alter, Norma seems to be vindicated: “The sound of death … it awaits you here!”

Watching her children sleep, Norma realises they would not even know who hit them is she were to strike. “No remorse, o heart of mine, they shall not live.” However, she can hardly even contemplate it, for what is their crime? “They are Pollione’s children, that is their only crime! They are already dead to me.” She sees there is only one way out of the mess: “Let my sins be mended, and then, death.”

In a reversal of the previous scene, Norma asks Adalgisa for her forgiveness, and a little more: “I cannot take these children with me in death, so I entrust them to you.” She places a heavy burden on Adalgisa’s shoulders: “I only ask that my children should be spared from poverty and slavery. Always remember that I was betrayed and abandoned for you!” Adalgisa invokes Norma’s compassion by bringing the children forward Norma realises she has gained an ally and regained her friend: “The earth is big enough to shelter us two.” In a wonderful display of girl power, the two ladies become firm friends again: “I shall face uncertain destiny so long as I feel my heart beat with yours.” (Duet: Mira O Norma … cedi, cedi)

Norma waits to see if Adalgisa can persuade Pollione to return to her, but it has not worked. Norma’s anger immediately causes her to assume the worse:
Clothilde: Adalgisa spoke to him and wept, but in vain.
Normal: Why did I trust her? She left me, and went to him, made even more beautiful by her grief.

Now nothing can stop Norma’s revenge, and she has the power to make things happen, fast. “My vengeance will strike first and Roman blood will flow like water!” ‘She rushes to the alter and strikes the shield three times.’ As the warriors and Druids rush to the temple, she tells them her call means: “War, plunder and death!” When Pollione is brought before her but will not talk, she is confident that “Now I am avenged.” However she cannot strike the fatal blow, quickly thinking to save him that “I must question him, to find out which accomplice, which priestess, spurred him on.”

Alone with Pollione, she has his fate in her hands: “Nobody else can set you free, but I can.” She wants him to leave Adalgisa and she will spare his life., but when he refuses she reveals how she nearly killed their children: “ I did not strike then, but soon I shall do that dreadful act. In just an instant, I can forget I am a mother.” Pollione may offer to kill himself, but Norma foresees the true results of his betrayal: the destruction of the Roman army and the death of Adalgisa. She suddenly has all the power, and the weapons to really hurt him:
Pollione: Vent your fury on me, but spare her, an innocent girl. Let your vengeance be satisfied as I kill myself here before you. Norma: I shall strike at your heart via hers … At last I can make you as unhappy as I am.

Norma summons the Druids back ‘In a transport of fury’ to hear of “A new victim, a priestess who has broken her vows, betrayed her country and our gods.” Only at the last minute does she decide to change the victim’s identity, a dramatic change of intent that seals her fate. Up until this very moment, Norma had intended that Adalgisa would be exposed.
Norma: Hear me! (I am so guilty: shall I accuse her of my on sin?)
All: Say, who is she?
Pollione: Don’t tell them.
Norma: It is me!

Yet this is her ultimate revenge on Pollione, showing him “What a heart you have lost… You tried to escape me, you cruel Roman, but now you are here with me.” Even in death they will be together: “I shall be with you on the funeral pyre and in the earth.” Pollione asks for forgiveness, but Norma never actually gives it…

Norma tries to persuade her father to save her children, by begging, “Don’t let them be the victims of my mistakes. I am your blood, have pity on my children.” Finally, he weakens:
Norma: Father, you weep.
Oroveso : My heart is heavy.
Norma: You are weeping, you forgive.
Oroveso : I am won over by love!

Now, with her children safe and her father’s forgiveness assured, she can die happy: “ (giving Oroveso one last long embrace) Gladly I climb the funeral pyre.”

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT: Norma is a complex character, a priestess who believes in her own infallible link to the god, yet has fallen herself. It must have been an impressive feat to keep her children and her affair with Pollonius hidden for so long, which must pout her under great mental strain.

SINGER’S VIEW: “We are presently in New York, where I am singing the title role in Norma at the Metropolitan Opera. Norma has not been performed in New York for 20 years, so the pressure was pretty enormous … The opera goes much deeper into the characters than some, especially that of Norma herself, and she is onstage for all but 35 minutes of the three hours. It's a wonderful role to sing and act, and I do enjoy it a lot. I felt well tonight and particularly enjoyed the duet I have with the Roman proconsul, threatening him and pointing a knife at him!"
Soprano Jane Eaglen,
in a weekly diary published on MSN, October 22, 2001


"Norma is special for me. It's one of the hardest roles in the soprano repertoire, and I am really lucky I am able to sing it". A great Norma requires commanding stage presence, strong dramatic instincts, a wide range of emotions, and of course, plenty of voice. Mescheriakova's high pianissimo, will server her well in Norma. "Everybody asks me how I sing the high notes," she laughs. "It is not just Nature - I study very hard! Shumilova taught me to put beauty in the voice: to find colours and expression, and to pay attention to the meaning of words." Mescheriakova admires Maria Callas's great recordings of Norma, but won't imitate. "Callas's voice is different from mine. My teacher always told me, never copy others: always be yourself." Marina Mescheriakova
interviewed by Joseph Si in Sept 1998 for ‘La Scena Musicale’


Question: I was told you are a mother of a 15 year old boy. How hard is it to be a mother and interpret a role like Norma, a woman who thought of murdering her own children?
GG: Extremely hard. But I’ll do my best to understand her. I see her as a strong character and I just love to perform strong-willed characters. I will try to be a different Norma. I may be bad, good or fabulous, but I assure you I will be similar to no one … I will try to be more alive, fiery, but also sensitive. In other words, a flesh and blood character.
Question: How do you deal with the weight of past interpretations, namely in Norma? How would you answer those who say that only Callas, Sutherland or Caballé could sing Norma?
GG: Callas is in a cemetery. Sutherland no longer sings professionally. I can only give my best. I can only try and, obviously, I am sure there will be a lot of people describing my performances as awful. … These “ghosts” from the past can have a very negative and castrating influence in the current opera scene. Whoever wishes to hear Maria Callas sing “Casta Diva” can easily do so through recordings. … Past performances cannot and should not prevent new ones from taking place.”
Russian soprano Galina Gorchakova,
interviewed by Nuno Miguel Marques for ‘Classical Voice’.


© 2006 Kirsty Young
Internet rights 2006 OperaTalent

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