Premiered: December 26, 1831 - La Scala, Milan
Setting of Norma:
Bellini's Norma takes place in 50 BC Gaul.
The Story of Norma
Norma, ACT 1
Deep into the forest within a sacred grove, the Druids gather around an alter and pray to their god for strength against the Roman armies. The high priest, Oroveso, leads them in their prayer. After they have said their prayers, they leave the forest. Moments later, Pollione, the Roman proconsul, arrives with his centurion, Flavious, telling him that he no longer loves Oroveso's daughter, Norma (even though she broke her vow of chastity and gave birth to two children). Pollione has fallen in love with one of the virgin temple priestesses, Adalgisa. When the bronze temple instrument is sounded, signaling the return of the Druids, the Romans quickly depart. Norma arrives and prays for peace (singing the famous aria, "Casta diva"), hoping to prolong the life of her secret Roman lover, Pollione, after having visions of the Romans' defeat. When Norma leaves, Adalgisa, who has been praying below the alter, descends to the top to say her prayers. She prays for strength to resist Pollione's advances, but when he arrives, she gives in to his request and agrees to travel to Rome with him the next day.
In Norma's bed chamber, she confides to her servant that she fears Pollione loves another woman and they are fleeing to Rome the following day, but she has no idea who this woman could be. Adalgisa arrives with a heavy heart, seeking guidance from Norma. Adalgisa tells Norma that she has been unfaithful to their gods because she has given her love to a Roman man. Norma, recalling her own sin, is about to forgive Adalgisa until Pollione arrives seeking Adalgisa. Norma's love quickly turns to anger and Adalgisa realizes what has happened. She refuses to go with Pollione because of her extreme loyalty to Norma.
Norma, ACT 2
Pacing beside the beds of her small children late that evening, Norma is overcome with the urge to murder them so Pollione can never have them. However, Norma's love for them is too strong, and so she summons Adalgisa to take them to Pollione. She will give up his love so that Adalgisa can marry him and raise Norma's children as her own. Adalgisa refuses, and instead, tells Norma that she will speak with Pollione on Norma's behalf and convince him to return to Norma. Norma is moved by Adalgisa's kindness and sends her away on the task.
Back at the sacred alter, Oroveso announces to the Druids gathered around the alter that Pollione has been replaced by a new leader, who is much crueler, and that they should refrain from revolting for now in order to give them more time to plan their next battle. Meanwhile, Norma has arrived and awaits for Adalgisa's return. When Adalgisa finally shows up, she brings bad news; her attempt to persuade Pollione to return to Norma was unsuccessful. Filled with rage, Norma takes to the alter and calls for war against the Romans. The soldiers chant along side her, ready to fight. Oroveso demands a life to be sacrificed so that their gods will grant them victory. Guards interrupt Oroveso when they capture Pollione desecrating their temple - Romans are forbidden to step foot inside their sacred building. Oroveso declares Pollione as the sacrifice, but Norma delays stalls. Pulling him aside to a private room, she tells him that he can have his freedom as long as he gives up his love for Adalgisa and returns to her instead. Pollione rejects her offer. Out of despair, she confesses her sins to her father in front of all the Druids and offers herself as the sacrifice. Pollione cannot believe Norma's benevolence and falls in love with her again. He rushes to the alter and takes his place by her side on the sacrificial pyre.