It is the pinnacle of bel canto: Vincenzo Bellini’s masterpiece “Norma” has opened the new season at the Royal Opera House in London.
Phenomenal Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva dives into the immensely demanding title role for the first time, following in the footsteps of legends like Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland, who owned Norma in the 20th century.
“Norma is completely different to what I did before. I was searching to express other colours not only vocally but also dramatically. When Norma came to me I felt like I really wanted to do it because I knew this is a huge woman,” says Yoncheva.
It is the first time in almost 30 years that the opera, about the Druid high priestess who falls for the Roman enemy, returns to this prestigious stage.
The much-anticipated new production is by renowned Catalan collective La Fura dels Baus under the baton of Sir Antonio Pappano.
“Bellini was a genius of melody. Not any ordinary melodies but melodies that seemingly go on forever. The melodies turn on each other somehow. There is almost an embroidery” he says.
“The role of Norma I would say it is an Everest in the soprano’s repertoire. There is no question. The singer has to sing with authority and with thrust, clarity, with character but also has to be able to spin these beautiful melodies.”
Sonya Yoncheva appreciates the complexity of the role she has to play.
“I like the part where she is vulnerable because this is exactly the part that she can’t accept in her. This double face, this vulnerability she doesn’t want to show it.”
Bellini’s masterpiece includes one of the most famous arias in opera’s history, ‘Casta Diva’, in which Norma invokes the goddess of the moon.
However Sir Antonio Pappano underlines Bellini’s understanding that less equals more.
“This piece Casta Diva is just a genius of writing but it is also a moment where the action stops and there is a prayer and it has to do with atmosphere. Great bel canto is often accompanied by just a simple arpeggio which is supposed to create a hypnotic feel.”
“I choose to think that this is a very intimate and completely internal spiritual moment for her and her people,” says Yoncheva, who admits that the intensity of the role is extremely demanding. “It was so hard today to not cry, to not lose control of my real feelings. I was completely into it.”
Norma we are getting to know each other 😏 1st night was a triumph, well deserved for all the cast!
RoyalOperaHouse</a> <a href="https://t.co/qktOuohhH1">pic.twitter.com/qktOuohhH1</a></p>— SONYA YONCHEVA (sonyayoncheva) 13. September 2016
Truly incarnating Bellini’s heroine requires more than just impeccable technique and self-control, however, and Yoncheva sees this in Norma and in all the roles she has taken on in an increasingly impressive repertoire.
“I’m not thinking about being a singer. I’m thinking about being a storyteller to the people and it is absolutely impossible to not go into the skin of all my characters.”
Story produced and presented by Katharina Rabillon.