About Time You Saw: NormaBy Gilly Hopper
Chiming with current social preoccupations, Norma is a strong choice for The Royal Opera House’s Autumn season. In these tumultuous times, Norma is topical, tyrannical and female focused. In a contemporary society where religion and political power has become the same thing, Bellini’s masterpiece explores ideas of society and the self, responsibilities as well as personal and professional grievances. Antonio Pappano, music director of the Royal Opera House, conducts a cast led by Sonya Yoncheva (Norma), Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja (Pollione) and Sonia Ganassi (Adalgisa) Àlex Ollé’s, of La Fura dels Baus, direction gives a contemporary heroine a contemporary world in which to exist, positioned against a backdrop of a cruel civil war.
Synposis (and spoiler alert!)
‘The priestess Norma loves Pollione, leader of the occupying force suppressing her people, and has borne two children by him. But Pollione’s love has withered, and he now loves Norma’s fellow priestess Adalgisa. Meanwhile, the people urgently look to Norma to lead their rebellion. Norma discovers the love between Pollione and Adalgisa. Furiously she gives the signal for war. Pollione is captured, attempting to steal away with Adalgisa. Norma, called upon to announce a sacrificial victim to consecrate the uprising, declares it shall be a guilty priestess: herself.’
In her debut role at The Royal Opera, Sonya Yoncheva dazzles as Norma. A proclamation of vocal flexibility and splendor, Yoncheva’s rendition of the perennial favourite, Casta Diva, is secure and seductive, with punctuated ornamentation and honed technique. The young Bulgarian, who replaced Anna Netrebko after her withdrawal in April, takes the driver seat in Bellini’s vehicle for a lead soprano. Act II’s ‘Dormono entrambi’ provides another standout moment for the priestess. The vocal strength of the lead singers – Calleja’s opening song had us ‘swept away by pleasure and love’ and Sonia Ganassi (Adalgisa’s) intimate scene and prayer ‘Sgombra e la Sacra Selva’ – are the opera’s greatest triumphs. Norma’s striking duets with Pollione and Adalgisa, and the Act I trio ‘Vanne, Sì: Mi Lascia, Indegno’ instantly grip and are amongst the most dramatically progressive of the evening.
Impacting scenography and iconography ordained the parameters of the stage with an engulfing crucifix trellis designed by Alfons Flores. While certain modernisations seem a little unclear and at times unnecessary – ku klux klan style robes seem purely for sensationalist purposes – overall the more recent timeline is not offensive and succeeds in promoting a personable and contemporary production. The strength of the female characters is prevalent and this new production, which The Royal Opera has not presented in nearly thirty years, capitalizes on central themes of leadership, sex and power.
Gender and political power, choice, authority and ultimate failure, Norma questions politics and patriarchy and showcases it’s relevance in no uncertain terms. In 2016, out of 196 countries only 22 are led by women, that’s less than 12%. The ROH has strategically aligned itself with a political agenda, and in so doing may even traverse and exceed Bellini’s primary aim.
Norma runs 12 September–8 October 2016.