Norma returns to the Florida Grand Opera this weekend
In order to appreciate how important Norma is, here is a fact: the 5000 lire note, right before Italy switched over to the Euro when joining the European Union, had a portrait of Vincenzo Bellini on the front and an image from the opera on the back. Commemorated on currency? That’s pretty big!
Norma, a tragedia lirica in two acts, is Bellini’s most important work, with a libretto by Felice Romani based on Norma, ossia L’infanticido (The Infanticide) by the French poet Alexandre Soumet. With a debut in the prestigious La Scala of Milan in the Winter of 1831, Norma is the textbook example of the bel canto and the aria “Casta diva,” one of the most famous and recognized.
Maria Callas – “Casta Diva” (1958)
The role of Norma is also one of the most sought after, with luminaries like Maria Callas, Cecilia Bartoli and Montserrat Caballe starring in it. As one of their most requested operas (and perhaps the most absent), the Florida Grand Opera has brought back a magnificent production after 25 years with two amazing sopranos helming the role for the A and B casts, Mlada Khudoley and Mary Elizabeth Williams.
Making his FGO debut is director Nic Muni, a well-traveled author, educator, artist and stage director who most notably toured with the Cincinnati and Tulsa operas. His recent work in San Diego, directing Don Giovanni, garnered rave reviews from that city’s media for his directing and set design.
Anthony Barrese returns to the conductor’s podium after having thrilled the locals last season with Les pêcheurs de perles. His rising maturity at a tender 40 years of age is an interesting career one would be wise to keep an eye on.
Russian Khudoley has filled the air at the Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg, the Bavarian State Opera and the Royal Opera House Convent Garden. Williams’ voice has been described as “soft bronze.” Both divas are at the top of their game and ready to meet the challenges playing the role of Norma, widely considered one of the most difficult soprano roles ever composed and, as such, it is the litmus test for a soprano.
The plot is high with drama and emotion, with a clandestine love affair bridging tensions during a time of war triggering the action. The Druid Priestess Norma has been secretly involved with the Roman Proconsul of the invading forces, even bearing him two children in secret. With her visions being the catalyst force for the Druid reaction to the occupation, she is thrown into personal psychological turmoil when he turns his attentions to another priestess.
With the demanding inner struggle of the role and the high attention for lyricism and poetics, Bellini’s oeuvre is a must see. And with the FGO bringing two of the hottest soprano talents working the world opera scene, this is a production that will be remembered for a long time.
Will it be absent again for such a long time locally? That will depend on numerous factors, many which I imagine revolve around the present ability of having been able to secure such a perfect storm of parts. This means, of course, that if you sleep on your laurels and miss this one, well, you only have yourself to blame.
For performances and ticket information, please visit fgo.org.
Slider image credit: Brittany Mazzurco and the Florida Grand Opera.
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