n portraits Vincenzo Bellini looks like the embodiment of Romanticism: delicate features, expressive dark eyes, a white cravat. He lived just thirty-three years, and of the ten operas he composed, as many as three became part of the performance canon: La Sonnambula, I Puritani, and Norma precisely.
They share a lyrical quality and melodiousness comparable to none. It is believed that Chopin took this melodiousness from Bellini and transposed it to piano music. They knew each other in Paris. Norma not as a stage production but a concert enables some old-fashioned elements from the libretto to be ignored: immoral priestesses, betrayals in love and friendship, suicides in flames. What it brings is an opportunity to experience an undiminished wave of musical inspiration and, in the case of a period performance – a taste of the era of Romantic bel canto with its long phrasing, expressive arabesques and sigh-like scales. All this is found in the famous duets, the arias with chorus, the trio, and also in Norma’s immortal aria ‘Casta Diva’, one of the most famous Italian arias of the 19th century. The title role is one of the hardest soprano parts in the entire opera repertoire. German soprano Lilli Lehmann once said that singing all three Brunhilde roles from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle in one evening would be less stressful than singing one Norma.