Verismo brings ‘Norma’ to Vallejo
By Elizabeth Warnimont
Special to The Herald
Verismo Opera Company brings a Bellini opera classic to Vallejo this month, performing “Norma” at the Mira Theatre beginning Friday, Aug. 19.
Eliza O’Malley, who will sing the part of Norma in the Aug. 21 performance, became involved with Verismo by chance, while returning a favor to a friend.
“I had a friend who was singing in ‘Carmen’ while I was singing in ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’” O’Malley said. “We needed someone to run the supertitles. (My friend) very kindly volunteered to do it, and I asked how I could repay her.”
The answer: Her friend’s company was also in need of a supertitle operator for their production, so O’Malley reciprocated the favor.
“I loved the performance, and I heard that they were doing ‘Traviata,’ a role I had always wanted to do, so I asked if I could join the company.”
That company was Verismo. O’Malley fell in love with the group and she hasn’t left since.
In “Norma,” a Druid high priestess is in love with Roman proconsul Pollione and has secretly borne two children by him. Pollione then falls in love with a younger priestess, Adalgisa. Once Adalgisa learns that Pollione has chosen her over Norma, however, her allegiance to Norma prevails and she tries to persuade Pollione to return to her.
Pollione refuses, and the outraged Norma declares war on Rome. This requires a sacrifice to the Druid god, and Pollione is chosen for the pyre.
Once Pollione is alone with her, however, Norma offers him a last chance to renounce Adalgisa and return to her — but when he refuses, Norma decides to confess her affair with him to the Druids. For the high priestess, the offense is punishable by death, and she offers herself as a sacrifice in Pollione’s stead.
Finally, Pollione, moved by Norma’s noble act, reaffirms his love for her and chooses to join in her fiery fate.
“There is a wonderful trio where they can’t contain their horror, rage and stubbornness,” O’Malley said, describing the scene when Pollione first discovers that Adalgisa has told Norma of their affair (“Oh! De qual sei tu vittima”).
“The trio originally had just two parts, Norma and then all three of them,” O’Malley said. “But then when Joan Sutherland was performing it (in 1982) … they inserted an extra section where it is just the two of them singing.”
The change was so well received, it has now become standard, she said.
The Verismo production is slightly condensed, omitting only some of the repeated songs from the original, O’Malley said.
“One nice thing about this production is that we have a big chorus,” she said, noting that it will include 16 voices.
Verismo was established in 2008 by director Frederick Winthrop and a small group of other performers as a way to bring opera to new audiences.
Since that time, the group has brought many classic operas to the Mira and other venues in the greater Bay Area. “Norma” is the third production of the company’s 2011 season, which concludes in October with Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” including four performances at the Mira beginning Oct. 15.
If You Go
“Norma” will be at the Mira Theatre, 51 Daniels Ave., Vallejo from Aug. 19 to Aug. 28. Tickets are $15 and are available by calling 552-0400 or at brownpapertickets.com. For more information, visit verismoopera.org.