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The Sunday Opera: Vincenzo Bellini's "Norma" in a 1965 recording with Joan Sutherland

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We’re focusing on a prime example of the Bel Canto style of composition by one of its greatest proponents on this week’s Sunday Opera (6/19 3:00 p.m.) with Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma” in a stellar recording from 1965.

Two pieces stand out in this score and have appeared in many concerts over the years. Norma’s first act aria, a prayer to the goddess of the moon entitled “Casta diva” and a duet in the second act for Norma and Adalgisa where Adalgisa assures Norma that she’ll give up Pollione. This is entitled ‘Miro, o Norma.”

Norma (Joan Sutherland) is a Druid priestess who is in love with the Roman pro-consul Pollione (John Alexander) with whom she has had two children. They must be kept in hiding with the help of Clotilde (Yvonne Minton) because it is against Druid law for her to fraternize with the invading Romans. Pollione, however, has turned his wandering attentions to another priestess, Adalgisa (Marilyn Horne), but Adalgisa rebuffs Pollione and swears her fealty to Norma.

When things come to a head after Norma declares that Pollione is a traitor, and she decides that she will exact her revenge by exposing the priestess who is a traitor, and telling Pollione that she will kill their sons. In the end, Norma saves Pollione because she still loves him by admitting that she is the traitor and will walk into a pyre to her death. Before she does however, she begs her father, Oroveso (Richard Cross) to not make victims of her innocent children as they were of his blood as well. After Oroveso agrees to care for her sons, Norma prepares to walk into the fire, but she is joined by Pollione whose love is reborn, and together, they die in the flames.

The final cast member is Pollione’s aide Flavio sung by Joseph Ward. Richard Bonynge conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

We’ll shift gears with a bit of rarity to follow the opera and a piece by British composer Sir Charles Hubert H. Parry. The work is Parry’s “Invocation to Music” which is based on an Ode (in Honour of Henry Purcell) by Robert Bridges. This recording features soloists Anne Dawson, Arthur Davies, and Brian Rayner Cook who are joined by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir conducted by Matthias Bamert.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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