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.
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.
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.
Norma comes onto the stage and sings this extremely famous aria right away. But that’s just the beginning for her.
There is a lot of opera left over, for sure. She never stops singing. I joke that Oroveso’s aria in the second act was put there just so Norma could go use the restroom.
There’s some Norma crossover in your cast. You sang it at the Met with Jamie Barton as Adalgisa; she sang Adalgisa in San Francisco with Russell Thomas as Pollione. Have you sung Norma with him?
This will be my first time singing this opera with Russell. In fact, this is the first time we’ve collaborated in an opera. The only other thing we’ve done together was Verdi’s Requiem with the New York Philharmonic last season. I was so excited when I saw this cast list. I was like “Um, yes! Can we take this on the road, please?” I think people will be talking about it for a while. Let’s hope!
Does Norma have anything in common with your LAO debut role, Donna Anna?
They are similar because of their emotional journeys. Donna Anna is dealing with the loss of her father and the anger and grief that accompanies that loss. Norma is dealing with similar feelings because of the loss and betrayal of not only her lover but of her best friend. Then on top of all those feelings of anger and hurt, we add the pressure of Norma’s political stature, thoughts of murder and suicide, disappointment, frustration, remorse, embarrassment and hopefulness of absolution. It’s an intense night.
A Norma has to be able to deliver the vocal goods.
Yes, she does. This role encompasses everything: all the emotions I just mentioned in addition to all the vocal demands one could possibly ask for.
She goes through a lot during the course of the opera.
She absolutely does. She’s a bit of a basket case at the end, and rightfully so. I always joke that this opera could totally be a Jerry Springer episode. “My best friend is sleeping with my husband and I didn’t know about it.” And then there are the two children that she’s kept secret somehow for several years.
How does she manage to hide them from everybody?
I always wondered that! They wore big robes, but can you really hide being pregnant twice? And then having screaming children around—how do you hide that? So I thumbed through the play that it’s based on. Apparently she was abducted by the Romans for three years. I was like “light bulb!”
That’s not in the opera anywhere, is it?
No, it’s not. But it explains so much! My personal theory is that she gave birth to twins.
You performed in this same production of Norma, directed by Anne Bogart, when it was done at Washington National Opera in 2013.
I like this production a lot. I think that Anne did a really good job conveying all of the different scenarios. She really wanted to delve into the ideas of inner restraint within the characters, which leads to organic physical outbursts. I think it’s really well done.
Compared with your other roles, do you do anything different to prepare for a performance of Norma?
The bulk of the roles in my repertoire are stamina pieces, and Norma definitely leads the pack. With doing all these kinds of roles, I’ve worked up to doing the same routine I normally do, with the exception of needing to have a protein bar at intermission to keep my energy levels up.
Angela Meade discussing her career and love of Norma at Lincoln Center
Norma has a lot for the women to do together.
Truly they do. Bellini knew what he was doing. The score is filled with gorgeous musical moments and two of the most beautiful are the two duets between the ladies.
Norma has more material with Adalgisa than with her ostensible love interest, Pollione.
Yeah, it’s definitely more of a girl power piece than your typical operatic love story.
Do you think you’ll keep Norma in your active repertory for a long time?
I’d like to, yes. It’s a piece that is near and dear to me and I enjoy returning to it.
Also, take a look at our Norma Storify for some stellar live tweets from the Final Dress Rehearsal on November 18.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.