Norma (1831), with a libretto by Felice Romani, Bellini's regular collaborator, is based on Alexandre Soumet's tragedy Norma ou L'Infanticide, which had been successfully performed in Paris shortly before. It is an update, in a romantic key, of certain themes from the classical tradition, such as the priestess who breaks her vows for love (Spontini's La Vestale, 1807) and infanticide as revenge (Cherubini's Medea, 1797). The setting in the world of the Druids of Gaul and the love affair of a priestess with a Roman soldier are reminiscent of an episode from Chateaubriand's Les Martyrs (1809).
The action is concentrated in the unity of time required by classical theatre, and the traditional forms of Italian melodrama are integrated into a large collective picture. The figure of Norma, of great psychological complexity, rises above all, with an unprecedented melodic beauty.
Teresa Lloret, philologist
Lyrical tragedy in two acts
Music by Vincenzo Bellini
Libretto by Felice Romani, based on the tragedy Norma, ou l'infanticide, by Alexandre Soumet
Coproduction of the Gran Teatre del Liceu with the Canadian Opera Company, the Chicago Lyric Opera, and the San Francisco Opera
Orquestra Simfònica del Gran Teatre del Liceu
Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu
Conductor | Renato Palumbo
Stage director | Kevin Newbury
Revival | R. B. Schlather
Set designer | David Korins
Costumes designer | Jessica Jahn
Lighting designer | D. M. Wood
Assistant to the stage director | Albert Estany
Assistant to the set designer | Amanda Sthephens
Chorus master | Peter Burian
Concert master | Liviu Morna
Assistant to the conductor | Gueràssim Voronkov
Pollione | Gregory Kunde
Oroveso | Raymond Aceto
Norma | Sondra Radvanovsky
Adalgisa | Ekaterina Gubanova
Clotilde | Ana Puche
Flavio | Francisco Vas
Il pirata, one of Vicenzo Bellini’s first operas, was premiered at the Teatro all Scalla in Milán. Today’s production by Emilio Sagi can be perfectly identified with his style, and similar traits to those of Luisa Fernanda or Le Nozze di Figaro are detected. In addition, this opera that proposes a veritable vocal challenge to the singers.
It is the story of a young man with daring, rebelling against oppression and injustice, but condemned to suffer an amorous misadventure; his beloved, married by obligation to his enemy, with whom she also has a child. The enemy in question, the embodiment of the most despotic power; duels to death, night scenes and gothic castles: all the ingredients –with small variations- could have come from so many Italian romantic operas and a good part of European literature of the period.
Perhaps because of this, The Pirate, has so often been trapped in a stereotype, that to a certain extent has cut short its history. Indeed, all these elements are present. But, as well, is the good work of the composer who had not yet celebrated his thirtieth birthday, and who, with this piece, begins to build the foundation of the authentic romantic melodrama, which further along will live its maximum zenith at the hands of composers such as Gaetano Donizetti and Giuseppe Verdi.
Bellini deliberately looked for an innovative style of composition and made a special effort to obtain an intimate correspondence between the music and the text. The Pirate will be the trampoline from which Bellini would achieve international success and become maestro de bel canto.
Norma is Bellini’s eighth opera. The libretto by Felice Romani is based on a play by the French writer Alexandre Sourmet, Norma, or The Infanticide, which in turn drew on the Classical Greek myth of Medea.
Despite being a complete flop on its debut at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, the opera’s emotional charge, richness of melody, and theatricality is now considered the composer’s greatest work, and is a favourite with audiences.
The title role is one of the most challenging in opera. Norma is a complex figure with many angles: she is a high priestess, with the religious and political power this entails; she is a mother but must conceal this; and she loves the wrong man. All these extreme situations require considerable acting skills and vocal agility, that on this occasion, Maria Agresta defended on the main role.
Gregory Kunde plays the Roman Pollione, and the mezzo-soprano Karine Deshayes sings the role of Adalgisa.
Norma was one of the few titles which Richard Wagner, a fierce critic of Italian opera, respected and admired, even composing an aria for the character Oroveso in the style of Bellini.
Known as a masterpiece of Romantic opera, it was staged for the first time in the Teatro Real in June 2016, with an exceptional cast including Diana Damrau, Javier Camarena, Venera Gimadieva and Celso Albelo, with the Teatro Real Orchestra and Chorus.
This is the last opera by Bellini, who died at the young age of 34 after having triumphed in Parisian high society, and finally —in a music scene dominated by Italians, from Rossini to Donizetti, his great rival— having been commissioned to write a piece which would be first performed at the Théâtre Italien in 1835. The Sicilian composer chose a historical subject, set during the English Civil War when Cromwell and the Puritans clashed with the Royalists. He created an exciting love story featuring plenty of passion, treachery and madness. The opera centres on a typical Romantic heroine, Elvira, who finds herself inexplicably abandoned by her betrothed on her wedding day. The pain this causes her is so unbearable that she goes insane. Madness was characteristic of the Romantic era: the physical fragility and social marginalisation of the characters was a way to make the irrepressible force of their emotions more expressive. In the stylised staging by Emilio Sagi, the characters appear to be overcome by melancholy.
With a libretto loosely based on the relationship between the Earl of Essex and Queen Elizabeth I of England, Donizetti created a work full of virtuoso arias, softening the historical events with bel canto and coloratura. First performed at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, on 29 October 1837, it reflects the desolation of the composer, who had lost his parents, his two children and his wife Virginia.
Salvatore Cammarano based his text, as in Lucia di Lammermoor, on the drama of a doomed relationship between Queen Elisabetta (Elizabeth I of England) and Roberto, Earl of Essex, who is in love with Sara, the wife of his friend the Duke of Nottingham. Donizetti refined his tendency to concentrate emotional climaxes and action in a limited space: the tragedy of two ill-fated couples is continually sustained by the music.
David Alden approaches the setting of Othello from the point of view of Giuseppe Verdi’s adaptation of the Shakespeare text. In the first act of the play, which Verdi omits, we see the great love of Desdemona, a young, beautiful woman of the Venetian upper class, for the rough-mannered and hot-tempered foreign soldier Othello. Her father, the patrician Brabantio, opposes their love. In the first act he asks how his daughter could have chosen to “run from her guardage to the sooty bosom of such a thing as thou, to fear, not to delight.”
Desdemona’s love for Otello is even thought to be a thing of magic. In contrast, Otello’s love for Desdemona is perfectly logical: Desdemona is so refined, so white, so aristocratic and so devout that anyone could understand why Otello would fall in love with her. They love each other, but their difference in social standing is undeniable. And these differences will be how the resentful, devilish Lieutenant Iago is able to wreak his vengeance on his General, Otello, for not promoting him to Captain as he had hoped.
This vengeance requires a minimum of effort, because all he really has to do is convince Otello of what everyone else already believes: such a gentlewoman could never really love someone like him. Consequently, it is very easy for him to make Otello believe that Desdemona has fallen in love with a man of her own rank, Cassio, whom Iago describes as the antithesis of Othello. And so, despite Otello’s noble soul - even though Desdemona truly loves him, even though Cassio is loyal and honourable -, Iago’s insinuations take root and Otello believes that Desdemona is unfaithful to him.
In the play, Shakespeare explains the action through the theme of racism, this is the driving force of the tragedy. But both the librettist, Arrigo Boito, and Verdi understood that the drama could be even more intense if racism played a less prominent part. The focus was put on the fragility of a character who physically differs little from any of the others; a vulnerable character who is dominated by inner turmoil. Thus Verdi reduces racism to a marginal issue which is scarcely mentioned. David Alden takes a similar approach: Otello is an outsider; he is “other” because that is how he feels inside. He need not be black or physically different from the other characters.
His conflict is internal: insecurity, that which has led so many men to commit the worst atrocities. We watch with horrified fascination the tragic disintegration of the hero, locked into the destructive cycle of destiny. The set design suggests a courtyard in Cyprus, but above all, this is a militarised, brutal world with dehumanised soldiers in a war which prevents them from responding to love or tenderness. In this context, Otello brings us face-to-face with one of the most secret human fears: to not feel worthy of what one loves most.
Renato Palumbo, who has conducted Les Huguenots, Tosca and La Traviata at the Real, returns with another Verdi classic with the Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho, much acclaimed for her performance in La Traviata in 2014. She is accompanied by tenor Gregory Kunde, whose interpretation of the difficult role of Otello is one of the most highly regarded. He also opened the 2016 season at the Teatro Real to great applause for his Roberto Devereux. Alongside them as the cruel and crafty Iago is baritone George Petean, who brought the 2016 season to a close in the opera I puritani.