Our latest opera at the Grand Theatre in Leeds was Bellini’s Norma. This has probably one of the most popular arias in opera (Casta Diva) and was the role Maria Callas sang the most, and who gave us arguably the best recording off the opera. It is Bellini bel canto at it’s height, with wonderful ‘tunes’, including a lot of duets, but which takes the genre to its absolute peak.

The synopsis from the Opera North web site goes like this, “A rollercoaster of passion, war and destiny. Norma leads her people in a desperate struggle to protect their Pagan beliefs and traditional way of life from the unstoppable rise of the industrial revolution. But she has a terrible secret – Pollione, the father of her children, is the man leading the destruction of the very fabric of her society. Norma is torn, but it is only when he betrays her love that she urges her people to rise up and fight for their freedom. Battle looms, and Norma and Pollione’s destinies seem inextricably entwined to the last“.

The setting was not Romans and Druids in leafy glades as in the original story, but as the synopsis suggests, a remote village at around 1860, under the rule of those bringing new ideas into the village, being the Romans. The Druid idea was not unknown at this time, and worship of trees (which is central to this version) was common. It did take a while for the mention of Romans to be ignored as it really didn’t fit the set at all, and I think because of that it took a while to warm to who all the characters were and their positions in their relative societies. However, once we got into the story, it was brilliant.

The principals were all superb. Annemarie Kremer (seen in the video below) has played the role of Norma in every European country apart from the UK so she was a real expert at the role, and her voice and acting was superb throughout. As usual, the orchestra was excellent, it was a really skillful and balanced performance, blending perfectly with what was going on on the stage.

The final act is Norma and Pollione throwing themselves in the pyre (happy ending!) and this was on the large trunk of tree covered in runes across the stage, suddenly it burst into flames. Didn’t expect that!

On the way home I realised I didn’t actually have a copy of this opera on CD. Maria’s will have to go high on my Amazon wishlist!