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Watch: Why all great sopranos are drawn to Bellini's Norma

The stars of Àlex Ollé’s new production of the bel canto masterpiece share why it has earned its place among singers and audiences alike.

By Rose Slavin (Former Assistant Content Producer)

26 September 2016 at 10.09pm | 10 Comments

Àlex Ollé’s new Royal Opera production of Vincenzo Bellini's Norma was broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 26 September 2016.

In this film - screened in the interval - the Spanish director is joined by members of the cast and the creative team to describe why the work is ‘one of the great operas'.

'All great sopranos would be drawn to this role,' says Music Director of The Royal Opera Antonio Pappano, who conducts the new production this Season. 'The music is just from another planet – Dramatic. Beautiful. Dark. Light.'

Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva takes on the challenging role in this staging:

'She is a political woman. She is a mother. She is a daughter. She is a best friend. Even a potential killer — she’s everything,' says Yoncheva of the complex female lead.

Norma is a priestess who falls in love with Pollione, the leader of the occupying force suppressing her people. After Norma becomes mother to two children, Pollione’s love for Norma withers and he pursues a fellow priestess Adalgisa.

'Her life is really complicated. My life is also really complicated – but not as much as her!' jests the soprano.

Playing her lover Pollione is Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, who reveals why Bellini’s opera is such a timeless classic: 'It’s the story of love, betrayal and then redemption in the end,' says Calleja. 'And it’s some of the most glorious music written by one of the bel canto masters.'

Italian mezzo-soprano Sonia Ganassi completes the love triangle and also praises Bellini’s genius. 'Only a man who loves women can write such beautiful music for the female voice,' she beams.

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Norma runs 12 September–8 October 2016. Tickets are sold out, although returns may become available and every Friday until Friday 7 October further tickets will be made available through Friday Rush.

The production is a co-production with Opéra national de Paris and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE and The Tsukanov Family Foundation.

By Rose Slavin (Former Assistant Content Producer)

26 September 2016 at 10.09pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged Àlex Ollé, Antonio Pappano, Bel Canto, by Àlex Ollé, cinema, Joseph Calleja, Live cinema relay, Norma, Royal Opera, Sonya Yoncheva, theatre, Vincenzo Bellini

This article has 10 comments

  1. Chris Lock responded on 26 September 2016 at 11:31pm Reply

    A stunningly, amazingly, fabulous performance of Norma, reduced me to tears! Sonya Yoncheva has the most beautiful voice.

  2. Jean Leclerc responded on 27 September 2016 at 4:45pm Reply

    It is more of a question:
    Will this opera be presented again in the Cinemas ?
    I live is Montreal, Quebec, Canada and It was not scheduled in my city.
    I would so much like to see it.
    Can someone answer this question ?
    Thank you

    • Noelia Moreno responded on 29 September 2016 at 3:37pm

      Dear Jean,

      Thank you very much for your comment. We're happy to announce that we'll soon have confirmation for screenings in the province of Quebec. The details will be uploaded on

      Best regards,

      ROH Cinema

  3. nelly magri overend responded on 28 September 2016 at 10:00am Reply

    I attended the film performance relayed LIVE from COVENT GARDEN OPERA HOUSE on the opening night. The singing and acting was perfect. It was a real pleasure to hear the women's duets (perfect). Needless to say our Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja was outstanding. But I must say that I was shocked by the scenery and Catholic representation. It does not stand to reason at all. After all at the time of the DRUIDS there were no machine guns, no television, no MONOPOLY games, The whole opera was out of context. It is a pity, and I am sure that most of the audience felt the way I feel: it was a parody of the Catholic religion. ....

  4. Lucy Hall responded on 28 September 2016 at 11:10pm Reply

    I completely agree with Nelly Magri (above). The sound from the singers and orchestra was magical, but visually the production was disappointing as I felt it was using religious imagery in a illogical and clumsy way. Not only did it not make sense, to me it was offensive and uncomfortable which was a shame.

  5. Susan Cooper responded on 7 October 2016 at 7:33pm Reply

    It is a shame the digital programme didn't include any information about the production. I had happened to find and watch the "Insight" on before the cinema broadcast and that helped me understand and appreciate the production. Why doesn't the digital programme point to other resources like this for people who'd like more info?

  6. Roger Taylor responded on 9 October 2016 at 12:23pm Reply

    I have seen on youtube some of the "original" settings of Norma. The setting in the time of the druids and Romans in Gaul, is difficult to relate to. However Alex Olle's updated production is stunning and works exceptionally well considering the timelessness of the emotional and psychological issues in the opera. Needless to say the lead singers, chorus and orchestra were fantastic, and in the auditorium Antonio Pappano created an amazing musical atmosphere.

  7. Dr Philip Cokkinos responded on 9 October 2016 at 5:22pm Reply

    Beautifully conducted music and some excellent singing from Joseph Calleja as Pollione, with elegant phrasing and mellifluous command of diminuendo and pianissimo. Yoncheva? Good, no more. She played safe, went for many lower-placed passages, avoided some of the climactic high notes (no attempt at a high D at the end of the trio), and was brutally overacting in Act 2. Ganassi was utterly forgettable vocally and scenically. I found the production to be offensively confusing, in a fascist-Franco style. A female Catholic priestess/prophetess? Guerilla warriors with machine guns? A forest of crucifixes? A Botafumeiro swinging during "Casta Diva"? KKK references with the burning cross? Norma in pantsuit and NOISY on-stage high heels for Act 2, then being shot in the head at the end? An utterly RUINED "Mira or Norma" scene by the kids watching TV and jumping about? This was not Roman-occupied Gaul in 50 BC but a shambles, totally out of context. Amid all this nonsense, why keep Pollione in a bland blue suit and not put him in Gestapo uniform? Just once, just ONCE, I should liked to see a staging the way it was originally intended by the composer. This was worse than that ridiculous LUCIA last spring. Shame on you, ROH, for presenting this parody and calling it opera!

  8. Sonya is great soprano. Norma in stage to RHO is awesome. I am so happy.

  9. E Byrne responded on 10 August 2017 at 5:37pm Reply

    Norma is not performed nearly enough in the U.K. It is a fantastic bel canto opera and I thoroughly enjoyed this production. The sets were a little outlandish but the singing was superb. Well done!

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