Tag Archives: Angela Meade

Norma Sneak Peek

https://youtu.be/TVdSSWB5-Nk

Get a sneak peek of Norma above

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Student’s Corner: Norma Opera Dreams

Elyse Johnson (right) and her mother, Julie Johnson, at a performance of Norma (2015)

Elyse Johnson (right) and her mother, Julie Johnson, at a performance of Norma (2015)

Sitting in an uncomfortable, red chair, I check LA Opera 90012 participants in for the evening’s performance – Norma. Two fellow Ambassadors and I hand out tickets, but I find myself distracted. I glance at my phone and hope this will make the time go by faster. I’m anxious to see the show.

As soon as we’re dismissed, I seize my black purse and rush to my assigned seat in the theater. I love opera (can you tell?). But this time is different, because I know three of the ensemble members. Two were my teachers and the third is a very dear friend of mine. I can barely suppress the butterflies of excitement in my stomach. I’m thrilled to watch them.

As soon as Norma starts, I’m mesmerized. It’s such a special show. I search for the members I know and manage to pinpoint two of them. It’s at this moment that I start daydreaming, fantasizing about all the rehearsals that go into creating this production. I have been in several smaller opera productions, particularly at Opera Camp, so I have some idea how the process should do. It’s long, grueling, and wickedly fast-paced from the moment a singer receives the score up until the final dress rehearsal. Yet, those rehearsal experiences have been some of the happiest moments of my life. Watching Norma, I think about my own experiences interacting with other campers – teenagers who harbor the same affection I have towards opera – and creating a whole production. We sing together, eat together, and create together.

I find myself missing those days terribly.

Russell Thomas as Pollione and Angela Meade as the title character in Norma (2015); Photo: Ken Howard

Russell Thomas as Pollione and Angela Meade as the title character in Norma (2015); Photo: Ken Howard

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Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Norma

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6oGBJbok64

Norma is the go-to opera to hear what the masterful, operatic voice can do. Yet, there’s so much more to this show than the voices. There’s an interesting directorial vision thanks to Anne Bogart, a classic take on the bel canto movement, and cast members that truly define what it means to be a great opera singer. In case you’ve missed the Norma love these past few weeks, we’ve collected a bunch of articles and videos for you to check out and see why Norma is so captivating.

Get To Know Norma

The cast of Norma (2015); Photo: Ken Howard

The cast of Norma (2015); Photo: Ken Howard

Norma War and Peace at Last

Norma is more than just a love story. It’s also an opera about the cross between the political and the personal , all showcased in the title character’s struggles.

Directing Norma

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.

Norma’s Girl Power Playlist

Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma is arguably the ultimate girl power opera, with a fiery and dramatic plot that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser. To help everyone get in an empowering mood, we’ve put together a list of our top 10 girl-power anthems for you to listen to until the opening night of Norma this Saturday. Here’s a list of 10 stellar girl power songs.

Drop The Mic: Norma’s A Vocal Fireworks Opera

As I write this, Angela Meade, Jamie Barton, and Russell Thomas are on-stage rehearsing a scene from our upcoming production of Bellini’s Norma. It’s the end of Act I and Norma (Meade) has just discovered the affair between the man she loves, Pollione (Thomas), and Adalgisa (Barton), a younger priestess. If you think the story’s dramatic, you should hear their voices! Unbelievable voices – let’s call them vocal fireworks because of their equally explosive and yet restrained nature – are at the center of Norma. It’s compelling to witness.

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Norma War and Peace at Last

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WnPpQdshQI

“This is where all the stars bow down.” I take this verse of Ted Hughes out of context but state with no compunction: there can scarcely be any denying that Bellini’s Norma is not only his greatest opera but the supreme achievement of the whole bel canto school. But is there any point in declaring something “the greatest”? Does it matter that one composer or tennis player or historian or poet surpasses everyone else in the field, especially in the arts, where great masterpieces tend to flow like wine? Perhaps not, but there will always be a tendency to find particular excellence even in the midst of abundance.

Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini turned out a profusion of great operas, many of them worthy of the highest praise. Of this notable triumvirate, Bellini is responsible for the smallest number because, sadly, he died so young. Of others in the same category, such as Mozart and Schubert, it is frequently asked, suppose they had lived longer: would they have given us even more masterworks? In the present case, it is hard to imagine that Bellini could have written anything superior to Norma. I Puritani, his last opera, has much going for it, but Norma remains the apogee of his career.

Norma (2015); Photo: Ken Howard

The opera has a twofold focus, one political, the other personal, and the protagonist is the center of both. Norma, the Druid high priestess, is the leader of her people in their fierce determination to throw off the yoke of the Roman invader. At the same time, she is imprisoned in her affair with the Roman pro-consul (governor) Pollione, whose two children she has borne contrary to her vow of virginity. These two aspects of her life, public and personal, are immediately revealed in her entrance aria “Casta diva”—she refuses to give the order for open revolt against the Romans, and then muses interiorly on her inability to deny her love for the man who will ultimately destroy them both.

This pattern of conflict will persist throughout the opera, with all the inner and outer struggles that afflict the persons of the drama. In every case, the conflict will be resolved by movement from unbending harshness to selfless generosity. The tragic finale will change Norma, Pollione and Oroveso beyond their personal and political limitations.

Beginning with Norma’s entrance, we can sense the primal psychological impulse of the story. The virgin high priestess is a character of powerful yet opposing interior forces; the central focus of the opera is Norma’s struggle to bring a meaningful resolution to the emotional storms that beset her. As high priestess she must tame the raging bloodlust of her people as they thirst for revenge against the Roman occupiers; as a woman she must contend with a similar battle that arises when she must confront a rival for Pollione’s love, the younger priestess Adalgisa.

The classical definition of tragedy points to a noble character who is undone by one principal character flaw. From her first entrance, Norma reveals both these traits. She is a commanding figure, imperiously directing the course of events, steely in determination, totally self-possessed as a ruler. And yet she must confront her inability to extricate herself from the pull of a passionate attachment. Throughout the opera we will see these two opposing forces raging within her until the final downfall of both Norma and her lover. As the title page of the score declares, this is truly a tragedia lirica.

The principal male characters have their own importance and are key movers of events but as personalities they do not change until the final scene. Pollione the seducer and Oroveso, Norma’s father, provide the occasion for the action but the psychological stimulus for it comes from the inner resources of the two women. Their emotional turmoil and its resolution impel the drama with irresistible force through music of unparalleled beauty.

When we open the score to the list of characters its most notable feature is the vocal assignment of the two women: both are listed as sopranos. We think of Adalgisa as a mezzo-soprano but, before the 20th century, composers were less stringent about the range of women’s voices. All of Verdi’s sopranos sang what we think of as coloratura music as a matter of course. Wagner’s writing for Isolde and Brangäne, and Elsa and Ortrud are in the same range. Adalgisa sings both the same notes as Norma or harmonizes with her, but the singer must always lighten her voice to indicate her youth relative to the older woman.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYRyWwiuTG4

Of the profusion of great musical moments in the opera three stand out, not only in themselves, but as key components of the musico-dramatic whole. The first is Norma’s entrance aria, “Casta diva.” The conventional structure here—recitative, aria, cabaletta—serves as a reminder that the composer’s genius is not constrained by custom: he uses it to further his own aims. In this case the recitative is actually a small scena in its own right. Norma engages in dialogue with Oroveso and the chorus. They argue for immediate military action and she tamps down their ardor.

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Drop The Mic: Norma’s A Vocal Fireworks Opera

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WnPpQdshQI

As I write this, Angela Meade, Jamie Barton, and Russell Thomas are on-stage rehearsing a scene from our upcoming production of Bellini’s Norma. It’s the end of Act I and Norma (Meade) has just discovered the affair between the man she loves, Pollione (Thomas), and Adalgisa (Barton), a younger priestess. If you think the story’s dramatic, you should hear their voices! Unbelievable voices – let’s call them vocal fireworks because of their equally explosive and yet restrained nature – are at the center of Norma. It’s compelling to witness.

Why?

Angela Meade as the title character in Norma (2015)

Angela Meade as the title character in Norma (2015); Photo Credit: Ken Howard

You can literally feel their voices vibrate through the space, giving you goosebumps. It’s a heroic vocal energy that only opera singers possess and share with the world. While Norma is known as an opera lover’s opera, for the opera novice it showcases the beauty of the operatic voice. It reminds you that this art form is built on its power, and this cast’s voices are beyond. The combination of Meade’s soprano, Barton’s mezzo-soprano, and Thomas’ tenor voices surround you lovingly throughout this bel canto opera (learn more about bel canto here).

As I was reminded during last week’s Piano Dress Rehearsal, opera singers aren’t amplified. In other words, there are no microphones like you’d find at a rock concert. It’s these powerful voices that are blowing the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion roof off. (Oh, and it’s not an El Niño either…I checked.)

Check out this short clip of Angela Meade discussing how demanding Norma is vocally:

https://youtu.be/dYRyWwiuTG4

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Let’s Talk Bel Canto Baby

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVdSSWB5-Nk

Lucia di Lammermoor. The Elixir of Love. Norma. What’s one major thing these masterpiece operas have in common? They are all part of the “bel canto” tradition of early 19th-century Italian opera. “Bel canto” directly translates into “beautiful singing,” but the movement is so much more than the beautiful arias that define it.

Norma; Photo: Craig T. Mathew

Norma; Photo: Ken Howard

The titans of bel canto – Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti and Gioachino Rossini – composed music that requires performers to have a number of vocal skills at their command: full, rich and even vocal tone; smooth, fluid musical phrasing; and tremendous vocal agility (the ability to sing a lot of fast-moving notes in a single phrase). These abilities come more naturally to some singers than to others, but even for those gifted singers who were born for bel canto, it still takes a lot of hard work in the rehearsal room to make it sound effortless. The words we use to describe bel canto may sound like gibberish if you don’t study voice, but I can promise you that the difference is quite clear. Check out Maria Callas performing “Casta diva” from Norma below and then contrast it with a non-bel canto piece: Birgit Nilsson singing “Allein, weh ganz, allein” (an early 20th-century German aria with vastly different vocal challenges) from Richard Strauss’s Elektra.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aFaEkvwO2w

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsNAWbslCGo

Still hungry for more information on bel canto? We’ve collected some great reference material to give you a taste of the bel canto movement below, including our top 5 bel canto operas to know.

Bel Canto: Audiences Love It, but What Is It? – via The New York Times

New York Times Chief Music Critic Anthony Tommasini discusses the history of the bel canto we know and love.

Talk Like an Opera Geek: Savoring The Bel Canto Sound – via NPR Music

It’s easy for opera fans to toss around the term “bel canto.” It’s much harder to actually define it. Literally, bel canto means “beautiful singing” in Italian, but it’s so open-ended that it’s come to mean anything from the lyrical trend in Roman cantatas from the 1640s to any particularly lovely snippet of vocalizing from any era. And then there’s the inverse of bel canto — “can belto” — a handy put-down to be flung at any singer who just stands and barks.

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Music Monday: Norma’s “Casta diva”

Angela Meade as the title character in Norma (2015); Photo: Ken Howard

Angela Meade as the title character in Norma (2015); Photo: Ken Howard

“Casta diva” from Bellini’s Norma is one of the most recognizable soprano arias, found in pop culture from many soundtrack appearances (Mildred Pierce, anyone?) and legendary renditions by the likes of Maria Callas (see below), Joan Sutherland, and Beverly Sills. Norma takes place on a Druid temple mountaintop during the Roman occupation of Gaul. It follows the heartbreak of Druid priestess Norma, who unbeknownst to her followers, fell in love and has two children with Pollione, the leader of the Roman forces. The Druids call for her to declare war on the Romans. Yet, Norma does not want to destroy the man she loves. During “Casta diva,” she prays to the Goddess for peace.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rjGwS20V94

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Norma by the Numbers

Our upcoming production, Norma is a phenomenal production that displays Angela Meade’s and Jamie Barton’s electric vocals. But Norma is a huge production in more ways than voice. There are some rather impressive and interesting numbers to note that an opera goer might not think about during the show.

Angela Meade as the title character in Norma at Washington National Opera (2013)

Angela Meade as the title character in Norma at Washington National Opera (2013)

Before opera fans even see the show, a crew of 46 people helped load in the set.

The giant set includes a unique assortment of props, perhaps the most notable being 1 giant full moon.

Let’s talk about costumes for a second. Norma’s bronze and elaborately beaded bodice alone required 18 hours for a very talented seamstress to assemble.

The story of Norma features 2 fiery divas, not battling out for the love of one man, but instead joining forces in this ultimate girl power opera. The show features a total of 6 principal artists, 43 chorus members, 12 adult supers, 2 child supers and 7 dancers.

Norma opens November 21st and runs through December 13th. Be sure to grab tickets to the performance that the New York Times states is an opera “that every opera lover should hear.” Keep an eye out for the giant moon!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yS_WAH-zVqE

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Angela Meade on Norma

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WnPpQdshQI

Soprano Angela Meade, who made her LA Opera debut in 2012 as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, returns as Bellini’s Norma, a role that catapulted her to prominence when she first performed it in concert at the Caramoor International Music Festival in 2010. She has subsequently performed in productions of Norma at the Metropolitan Opera and Washington National Opera. Shortly after rehearsals began in October, we sat down with her to get her take on this famously challenging role.

Angela Meade as the title character in Norma (2015); Photo: Ken Howard

Angela Meade as the title character in Norma (2015); Photo: Ken Howard

Let’s talk about Norma. It’s a big, giant, iconic work.

Indeed. Let’s call it Mount Everest.

 Many opera lovers associate Norma with Maria Callas and a whole host of other great singers.

I’ve listened to all of them and, of course, I find great inspiration in many of them. But I try to make it just Angela’s interpretation, rather than anybody else’s.

Between performances, auditions and competitions, how many times do you think you’ve sung the entrance aria, “Casta diva”?

A bajillion. I really don’t know! I did a total of about 60 competitions, and I probably sang it for all of them, and I’ve also sung it in concerts, private functions and other things, not to mention within the role itself and, of course, rehearsals for performing the role. I’m sure it’s well over 250 times, probably more than that. I should have kept a tally of it.

Many different types of singers have sung Norma.

It has ranged from lyric coloraturas to mezzos. It’s different for everybody, as it should be.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WzPK0mVbe0

Angela Meade singing “Casta Diva” for the Giordani Foundation Gala in 2009

It seems like you weren’t intimidated by the role.

I guess I never gave it much thought. When I first started singing “Casta diva,” I didn’t realize the sort of implications that went along with singing the role. I think plenty of people around me did, but I thought it was a beautiful aria. Clearly, I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

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Vocal Fireworks: Angela Meade on Singing Norma

https://youtu.be/dYRyWwiuTG4

Watch Angela Meade Chat About Singing Norma

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A Night in the Life of Angela Meade

https://youtu.be/4WnPpQdshQI

What A Night in the Life of Angela Meade above

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