Bellini’s Norma, heroine of the opera by that name, is a complicated, volatile creature. A druid high priestess in Roman-occupied Gaul, she’s already borne two kids by a Roman proconsul before the curtain rises; over the course of the opera, she confronts, accuses, threatens, disowns, beseeches, then finally forgives her fickle lover and the junior priestess he’s trying to seduce. All the while, she has the druid men ready to spring a putsch on their Roman conquerors at her command. With this opera, the best and most famous in Bellini’s short but prolific career, the bel canto style reached its peak. The role of Norma, too, represents a pinnacle for any coloratura soprano. It requires not just an agile voice that firmly and lightly hits the abundant clusters of high notes but also plenty of stamina and great dramatic instincts–as the emotions range from chasteness (in “Casta Diva,” the celebrated paean to the moon) to vituperation (in a trio as Norma faces her lover, Pollione, and her protege, Adalgisa) to tenderness (in an incandescent duet with Adalgisa) to penitence (her farewell as she mounts the funeral pyre). Maria Callas still serves as the model Norma for the current crop of dramatic coloraturas, among whom June Anderson, star of Lyric Opera’s brand-new production, is a leading light. Since her Lyric debut two decades ago, Anderson’s been back in a number of well-received bel canto roles, but never as Norma–she wanted to make sure she was up to the challenge. (By contrast, Callas strode boldly into the role for her American debut, at the Lyric in 1954.) At the urging of the late Ardis Krainik, Anderson finally decided to take the plunge. In return the Lyric has surrounded her with an able cast that includes lirico-spinto tenor Richard Margison (as Pollione) and Lyric-trained mezzo-soprano Robynne Redmon (as Adalgisa); it’s also recruited an intelligent young Italian maestro, Carlo Rizzi, to guide her. The production, staged by Colin Graham, runs through early March. Sunday, 2 PM, and Wednesday and next Saturday, February 15, 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker; 312-332-2244. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): June Anderson photo by Dan Rest.