The character of Norma has been a test bed as well as a dream for all the prima donna of the opera world: a sort of graduation exam to prove a solemn commitment; just talking about the Twentieth Century, we can name Rosa Ponselle, Gina Cigna and of course the divine Maria Callas, who has made this character her own symbol (including the scandal night of the 2nd of January 1958, during the opening show of Teatro dell'Opera of Rome, when she stopped singing because she didn't feel in shape, with the President of the Italian Republic, Giovanni Gronchi, among the public). And then many more like Leyla Gencer, Monsterrat Caballé, Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills, up until more recent singers like June Anderson, Dimitra Theodossiou, Daniela Dessì, Fiorenza Cedolins, Mariella Devia, Cecilia Bartoli, Sondra Radvanovsky. Many different voices to homage a multiform character, through a very rich writing, to show different sides of her shimmering charm, through always different interpretations.
Gaul, 50 BCE, during the Roman occupation. Deep into a forest, the Druids gather around and pray for strength against the Romans. The high priest leading them is Oroveso. After they leave the forest, Pollione, the Roman proconsul, arrives with his friend Flavio, and tells him he no longer loves Oroveso's daughter, Norma, with whom he has two children. He has, in fact, fallen in love with Adalgisa, a young virgin priestesses. Flavio warns him about Norma's anger but the return of the Druids is signalled and they have to leave. Norma arrives and prays for peace. She has had visions of the Romans' defeat and is worried her lover Pollione is going to die soon. When Norma leaves, Adalgisa say her prayers: she wishes to have the strength to resist Pollione, but when he arrives, she gives in to his request and agrees to flee to Rome with him the following day. Norma confides to Clotilde, her confidante, that she's afraid Pollione is in love with someone else but she has no idea who this woman could be. Adalgisa arrives and tells Norma she has been unfaithful to their gods because she has given her love to a Roman man. Norma, aware of her own sin, is about to forgive Adalgisa until she tells her the name of her lover. Norma gets furious but when Pollione arrives looking for Adalgisa, she refuses to flee with him and stays loyal to Norma.
Norma is overcome with the idea of murdering her children to spare them the shame of living without a father. However, she loves them too much to do it so she summons Adalgisa to marry Pollione and take the children with them to Rome. Adalgisa refuses, and tells her she will speak with Pollione for her to convince him to return to Norma. The two women embrace, strengthened up by their friendship. The Druid assemble at their altar; Oroveso announces that Pollione has been replaced by a new leader and that they should refrain from revolting in order to give them more time to plan their next battle. When Adalgisa finally returns to Norma from her task she tells her that her attempt to persuade Pollione to return to Norma was unsuccessful. Norma, furious, calls for war against the conquerors. Oroveso demands a sacrificial victim. Guards arrive after capturing Pollione desecrating their temple so Oroveso suggests him to be the victim but Norma pulls him aside to a private room and tells him that he can have his freedom as long as he gives up his love for Adalgisa and returns to her instead. Pollione rejects her so she confesses her sins to her father in front of all the Druids and offers herself as the sacrifice. Pollione cannot believe Norma's kindness and realises he still loves her. He rushes to the altar and takes his place by her side on the pyre.