“My dream is to become a little old lady opera director.”
– Anne Bogart
Norma is arguably Vincenzo Bellini’s masterpiece. It’s a vocal fireworks of an opera, where singers utilize every tactic in their vocal range to express the deepest of emotions: love. Director Anne Bogart and designer Neil Patel understand this implicitly. Their Norma is a version that removes the frippery, “the spectacle of the mis en scene” and in turn fuels the vocal energy at the core of Bellini’s storytelling.
This is a style of theater that Bogart advocates as the Co-Artistic Director of the famed New York theater institution, SITI Company, which she founded with Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki in 1992.
In Norma, Bogart brings her minimalist vision and unique acting technique to the operatic world. It’s a medium that serves Bogart’s vision well. She believes that “the kernel at the heart of the theatrical experience is terror,” but in theater the struggle is “how do we create a moment that creates that ancient terror while also having some restraint?”
Norma is the perfect place to answer said question. It’s in the bel canto tradition (read more about that here) and so singers must alternately exercise a great deal of vocal command, while expressing every emotion the dramatic plotline necessitates. In other words, singers have to be able to control their voices in a different way than with other classical (and contemporary) repertoire.
How does Bogart direct such an opera? She gets to the nitty, gritty of the story by focusing on spatial relationships. She says that in rehearsal (and by extension the world of the opera), “you are responsible for creating an entirely new social system.” This does not only include how the singer to each other, but also how they communicate with the audience and how the audience is engaged by their energy. This is all in the hopes of answering what Bogart believes is the greatest question of all in theatre, “How do we belong?” How do human relate to one another at their most vulnerable? How do we exist in the same room and experience live theater together?
In terms of Norma, the question becomes at this base level, how to the characters interact with each other on stage? Will Norma run to Pollione and beg for his love, when she’s realized his deception, or will she boldly refuse to look at him and stare strongly out into the audience, claiming her power with position? The latter is true of Bogart’s Norma, where themes are expressed through physical human behavior, while Angela Meade and Jamie Barton sing of love and sisterhood.
What could be more powerful?