|Sonya Yoncheva: one of the most astonishing stage |
presences you can possibly imagine.
First produced on Boxing Day 1831, Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)'s two-act opera Norma was based on the now-rather-forgotten play Norma, ou l'infanticide by French poet Alexandre Soumet (1786-1845); the opera is regarded as the pinnacle of the Italian bel canto genre, a term which - as far as this non-musicologist can make out - refers to a particular 18th/19th century variety of rather florid, flamboyant, embroidered singing, particularly noted for the vivid expression of emotion it allows female vocalists. Though it wasn't a smash hit on that opening night, Norma has only grown in popularity over the decades (Verdi, Liszt, Chopin, and Wagner were all massive fans), and is still regularly performed. It has more than a whiff of Greek tragedy about it, set though it is far later, during the Roman occupation of Gaul (this did not escape the little part of me that loved Astérix et Obélix as a child), and involving, in Wagner's words, a "wild Gaelic prophetess". In this production, it is relocated to something akin to Franco's Spain - but more on that later.