The Metropolitan Opera’s first Live in HD performance of the 2017-18 season, Vincenzo Bellini’s tragedy “Norma,” will be shown at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center and at the Cinemark Signature Stadium 14 Theatre in Kalispell at 10:55 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 7. It is sung in Italian with English subtitles and run time is 3 hours 4 minutes, which includes one intermission.
Tickets to the Whitefish Performing Arts Center broadcast are available at the door for $20 adults/$5 students/$10 college students, cash or check. A season ticket bundle (a single ticket for each of the 10 Whitefish broadcasts) will be available for $180 (10 for the price of nine). Call 406-862-7591 in advance or buy a season ticket bundle at the door.
Tickets at Cinemark Signature Stadium 14 in Kalispell are available in advance online at https://www.cinemark.com or at the door. Tickets are $23 adults, $21 seniors and $16 for children. Season ticket bundles are also available online.
“Norma” is perhaps the most inherently beautiful and most perfect operatic tragedy that you may have never heard of. The title role of Norma, the strong-willed Druid princess of Roman-occupied Gaul of 50 B.C., is considered the most demanding soprano role in all of opera. Maria Callas was the world’s most famous Norma in the 1950s, followed by Joan Sutherland in the ’60s, Beverly Sills and Montserrat Caballe in the ’70s and Cecelia Bartoli in the 2000s.
Singing the title role in Saturday’s broadcast will be American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, who HD viewers last saw as Queen Elizabeth I in “Roberto Devereux.” As one music critic raved about last week’s “Norma” debut, “Sondra Radvanovsky soared through the treacherously difficult role, bringing pathos and beauty to every moment she spent onstage.” Rumors are that Russian soprano Anna Netrebko was offered the role, but she turned it down because it is so difficult.
Composed in 1831, Bellini’s opera “Norma” is considered to be the pinnacle of Italian bel canto opera, an opera genre that literally translates to “beautiful singing.” Bel canto operas emphasize the voice over orchestration; the orchestral score is typically ethereal and transparent, the exact opposite of what a Richard Wagner might compose. So accompanied, the voices onstage are exposed. Audiences will easily hear what bel canto is known for: singers with pure and brilliant vocal tone, smooth phrasing requiring unbelievable breath control, florid ornamentation and improvisation, and a wide range of emotional expression.
Besides being bel canto’s number one opera, “Norma” also features the aria considered to be bel canto’s ultimate top hit: “Casta diva,” a prayer to the Moon Goddess asking for peace on earth. The soprano whom Bellini wrote this for initially declared this difficult aria “unsingable” and therefore almost sunk the debut, but she was otherwise convinced and the show went on.
Conductors of bel canto opera face the challenge of keeping their orchestras from falling asleep. After all, if an orchestra is playing soft arpeggios and lighter accompaniment for much of an opera, it needs a good conductor to keep it emotionally involved and moving along. Music critics carefully evaluated Maestro Carlo Rizzi at the Met’s “Norma” debut last week and highly praised his leadership: “Rizzi ‘gets’ Italian opera ... his conducting was taut, light, and with forward drive. The orchestra was in top form, playing with finesse and passion.”
This season’s “Norma” is a new production at the Met. Director Sir David McVicar sets it in the dim darkness of a forest grove in Gaul, with staging by Robert Jones.
Music critics consider “Norma” to be a tragedy of supreme perfection because the characters’ actions evolve so naturally and convincingly throughout the opera. Norma herself has a wide range of emotions to convey: conflict between her public persona and her secret personal life, romantic love, maternal love, friendship, jealousy, murderous intent, and finally resignation to her fate. Audiences will see the Roman proconsul Pollione (tenor Joseph Calleja), change from a rough, chauvinistic brute in Act 1 to a humbled penitent in the last scene. We will see Norma contemplate murdering her own children. We will see two women friends, Norma and her girlfriend Adalgisa (played by mezzo Joyce DiDonato), remain loyal to each other despite both loving Pollione.
Act 1. In a forest at night, the priest Oroveso leads the Druids in a prayer for revenge against the conquering Romans. After they have left, the Roman proconsul Pollione reveals that he no longer loves the high priestess Norma, Oroveso’s daughter, with whom he secretly has two children. He has fallen in love with a young novice priestess, Adalgisa, who returns his love. The Druids assemble and Norma prays to the moon goddess for peace (“Casta diva”). She tells her people that as soon as the moment for their uprising against the Roman conquerors arrives, she herself will lead the revolt. At the same time, she realizes that she could never harm Pollione. When the grove is deserted, Adalgisa appears and asks for strength to resist Pollione, who finds her crying and urges her to flee with him to Rome. She agrees to renounce her vows and leave for Rome with him.
Norma tells her servant that Pollione has been recalled to Rome and that she is afraid he will desert her and their children. Adalgisa then visits Norma and confesses that she has a lover. Recalling the beginning of her own love affair with Pollione, Norma is about to release Adalgisa from her vows and asks for the name of her lover. As Pollione appears, Adalgisa answers truthfully. Norma’s kindness turns to fury. She tells Adalgisa about her own betrayal by the Roman proconsul. Pollione confesses his love for Adalgisa and asks her again to come away with him, but she refuses and vows she would rather die than steal him from Norma.
Act 2. Norma, dagger in hand, tries to bring herself to murder her children in their sleep to protect them from living disgracefully without a father. She changes her mind and summons Adalgisa, advising her to marry Pollione and take the children to Rome. Adalgisa refuses; she will go to Pollione, but only to persuade him to return to Norma. Overcome by emotion, Norma embraces her, and the women reaffirm their friendship.
The Druids assemble at their altar to hear Oroveso’s announcement that a new commander will replace Pollione. Oroveso rages against the Roman oppression, but tells the Druids that they must be patient to ensure the success of the eventual revolt.
Norma is stunned to hear that Adalgisa’s pleas have not persuaded Pollione to return to her, and in a rage she urges her people to attack the Romans. Oroveso demands a sacrificial victim, and just then Pollione is brought in, having profaned the sanctuary. Alone with him, Norma promises him his freedom if he will leave Adalgisa and return to her. When he refuses, Norma threatens to kill him and their children, and to punish Adalgisa. She calls in the Druids and tells them that a guilty priestess must die, then confesses that she is referring to herself. Moved by her nobility, Pollione asks to share her fate. Norma begs Oroveso to watch over her children, then leads her lover to the pyre.
Sally Murdock is a guest writer for This Week in the Flathead and can be reached at email@example.com.