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This week's Opera Daily features a duet from the Italian opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini
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Today we’re listening to…
“Mira, o Norma,” a duet from the Italian opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini.
This is probably one of greatest mezzo-soprano and soprano friendship duets ever written. Norma, dagger in hand, tries to bring herself to murder her children in their sleep to protect them from living without a father. Norma changes her mind and calls for Adalgisa, advising Adalgisa 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 and sing “Mira, o Norma.”
🌟 Spotlight on Soprano Joan Sutherland and Mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne: When two vocal powerhouses come together, magic is bound to happen. Both Sutherland and Horne are revered for their vocal technique, emotional depth, and the ability to connect with audiences. Sutherland, with her perfect bel canto technique, and Horne, known for her rich mezzo-soprano voice, create a blend that is both ethereal and profoundly touching.
In “Mira, o Norma,” their voices intertwine with such delicate balance and harmony, proving why they are considered among the greatest singers of their generation. Listening to them, one can feel the unity, shared pain, and sisterhood of the characters they portray.
🎧 Treat Your Ears (11 minute listen): Sopranos Joan Sutherland and Mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne performing “Mira, o Norma” from Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma.
A Glimpse into Norma:
Premiere: La Scala, Milan, December 26, 1831.
Backdrop: Set in ancient Gaul amidst a Druid temple, the opera delves into love, betrayal, and sacrifice.
The Emotional Core: Norma, the high priestess of the Druids, and Adalgisa, a younger priestess, discover they’re in love with the same man, Pollione. Their duet, instead of a confrontation, becomes a poignant moment of shared pain and solidarity.
Tell me more about the opera: Norma is a tragedy in two acts that take place in 50 B.C. Gaul. It is the story of the Druid High-Priestess (Norma), who has broken her vows by getting involved with the Roman Pollione (pohl-lee-OH-nay). Pollione has fallen out of love with Norma and now loves the priestess Adalgisa (ah-dahl-JEE-zah). The two women come together over their shared (doomed) love after Norma reveals that she has had children with Pollione. Norma is torn between her love for her sons, and a desire to release them from a future of disgrace and shame by murdering them in their sleep. She spares them and instead asks Adalgisa to take them to Rome and raise them as her own. The druids call for Pollione to be sacrificed. When Norma volunteers to sacrifice herself to the Druid rites (asking her father, Oroveso, to care for her children), Pollione sees Norma’s true spirit.
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Want more Norma?
Pasta alla Norma, a combination of eggplant, tomatoes, basil, and ricotta, is a popular traditional Sicilian recipe. It was so popular in 19th-century Sicily that it was named after (Sicilian) composer Bellini's Norma to honor both the dish and opera.
Grateful for your time and ears,
PS. Missed our last edition? We featured “È la solita storia del pastore”, a tenor aria from Act 2 of the Italian opera L'Arlesiana.
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