Norma Opera 521.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When it comes to meriting the label of child prodigy, Vincenzo Bellini (1801-
1835) outdid even Mozart. He started learning music theory at two years old and
was a capable piano player by age five. Legend has it that he could already sing
arias from famous operas when he was 18 months old.
Together with Verdi and Donizetti, Bellini is one of the greatest
representatives of 19th-century Italian opera. His main output in a very short
life is comprised almost exclusively of operas. Apart from the 11 operas he
wrote, there are several songs.
Among the stage works, Norma belongs to a
group of masterpieces written in the last years of his life (the others being La
Sonnambula and I Puritani).
The opera tells the story of Norma, a Celtic
priestess in Gaul occupied by the Romans. It centers on her loyalty to both love
and country and the inevitable tragedy that ensues from the conflict between the
The current production is directed by Federico Tiezzi, who works
mostly in the theater. Tiezzi’s theatrical roots give him a unique insight into
Bellini’s piece. While he acknowledges that the story is probably based on Medea
by Euripides, Tiezzi says Bellini’s heroine is very much a woman of the 19th
century and says that the moral dilemmas that plague her actually predate the
theatrical leading ladies of Ibsen and Strindberg.
He cites the frequent
references to natural elements in Norma, such as the moon and the forest, as a
typical Romantic preoccupation and thus a deviation from Norma’s “Classical”
The biggest conflict in Norma, says Tiezzi, is the
conflict between nature and history, between Norma and Pollione which, according
to Tiezzi, juxtapose the modern woman and the man from antiquity.
wrote the tragedy with Norma’s part tailored to the capabilities of Giuditta
Pasta, a celebrated virtuoso soprano of the time. The role has come to be known
as one of the most difficult soprano roles in the history of opera. The most
famous Norma of all is perhaps Maria Callas, who sang the priestess’s lines no
less than 89 times.
In the Israeli Opera’s production, the demanding role
is shared by Dimitra Theodossiou, who won over Israeli audiences when she sang
in the Masada production of Nabucco last year, and Maria Agresta, who makes her
Israeli debut in this production.
During the premiere earlier this week,
Theodossiou wowed the audience again with her phenomenal vocal ability and got a
While all the singers in the current cast are
excellent, Theodossiou’s ability to project the difficult coloratura lines over
a full orchestral accompaniment is something of a rarity among this generation’s
opera singers. The crowd was justifiably ecstatic over her
The opera is conducted by Daniel Oren, artistic director of
the Verdi Opera House in Salerno, Italy, who also received a very warm welcome
from his home crowd in the premiere evening. Oren, whose stellar career started
as a boy singer under the baton of Leonard Bernstein, conducted Nabucco at
Masada and La Juive at the Israeli Opera last year.
He is also slated to
conduct Aida at Masada this season.Norma plays at the Israeli Opera in
Tel Aviv until April 23.