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Cast of ‘Norma’ says opera difficult to sing but easy to enjoy

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Oct. 16, 2023 - 21:02

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(From left) Opera singers Desiree Rancatore and Vittoria Yeo, conductor Roberto Abbado, and opera singers Teresa Iervolino and Park Jong-min pose for a group photo after a press conference held at the Seoul Arts Center on Monday. (Seoul Arts Center) (From left) Opera singers Desiree Rancatore and Vittoria Yeo, conductor Roberto Abbado, and opera singers Teresa Iervolino and Park Jong-min pose for a group photo after a press conference held at the Seoul Arts Center on Monday. (Seoul Arts Center)

Director Alex Olle's production of “Norma,” which premiered to open the 2016 season at the Royal Opera House in London, is set to be staged at the Seoul Arts Center from Oct. 26-29.

“I am happy to conduct one of the true masterpieces of Italian operas. Bellini’s (composition) is very demanding technically. ... It is a difficult piece to cast. Without exceptional singers, it's better not to perform," said conductor Roberto Abbado during a press conference Monday. The performance is accompanied by the Korean National Symphony Orchestra with the Noi Opera Chorus.

"The shape of the melody is very long and broad. The shape of musical numbers requires longer breath and a longer arch," explained Abbado.

Particularly, the aria "Casta Diva," one of the defining moments of the opera, is known for its intricate vocal acrobatics. As the first aria sung by the protagonist Norma, the singer needs to convey the charisma of a priestess intertwined with her complex inner emotions through a melodic composition.

South Korean opera singer Vittoria Yeo speaks during a press conference held at the Seoul Arts Center on Monday. (Seoul Arts Center) South Korean opera singer Vittoria Yeo speaks during a press conference held at the Seoul Arts Center on Monday. (Seoul Arts Center)
Opera singer Desiree Rancatore speaks during a press conference held at the Seoul Arts Center on Monday. (Seoul Arts Center) Opera singer Desiree Rancatore speaks during a press conference held at the Seoul Arts Center on Monday. (Seoul Arts Center)

"Singing while suppressing and discarding her human emotions as a leader of her people and religion while showing authority is a complex task," said South Korean opera singer Vittoria Yeo. She is doubly cast in the role with soprano Desiree Rancatore from Italy. "Yet, her inner turmoil from love and betrayal requires careful expression while still maintaining a display of strength."

"Norma, for me, is a strong woman," added Rancatore. "She is a betrayed woman. This is the side that makes her painful but passionately hungry. Technically, 'Norma' requires great lines, refined dynamics, high notes and scales. But humanly, it requires me to dig into my soul as a woman and feel her disappointment toward the man she loved, toward God and her people."

"Norma" may be a technical challenge for singers, but it offers audiences an accessible and thought-provoking experience. The narrative weaves a rich tapestry of themes such as religion, love, betrayal and death, while the characters' emotional fluctuations add diverse dimensions to the plot. Under the direction of Olle, the production's setting and conclusion are reinterpreted in a modern way.

"Following Norma's emotional turmoil is an enjoyable journey. She displays anger, entangles herself in love triangles and delves into themes of friendship and sacrifice,” said Yeo. "There's never a dull moment."

"The themes (of the opera) make a very striking contrast. ... A nation which has been invaded by another, a culture that has been cut off by a more dominant culture, and the military occupation -- (they seem) very real because these confrontations of cultures and religions are part of our lives too," said Abbado.