Vincenzo Bellini: Sinfonia from Norma


Vincenzo Bellini’s most popular opera, Norma was first premiered in December of 1831. With a libretto by Alexandre Soumet, Norma became a leading example of the bel canto genre. Many of Bellini’s other works have been disregarded, yet Norma remains a true staple in the opera world, with many leading sopranos taking on the lead role, such as Rosa Ponselle, Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. This tragic opera deals with themes of love, death, war and unfaithfulness. 


The Music

The Sinfonia from Norma opens up the whole show and acts as the Overture to the opera. There was a tradition some time before Bellini’s work, that would open with a ‘Sinfonia’ rather than an ‘Overture’, so this choice of wording is rather interesting. Working in the same way as an overture, Sinfonia plays through some of the main themes that are heard throughout the opera. Opening with dramatic unison chords, the music sounds quite Beethovian in character. The grand sweeps of strings soon fade into woodwind interludes, before pushing their way back into the spotlight.

Quick flashes of themes are heard throughout, with Bellini focusing on the rich textures and harmonies. Most of the themes are played by the strings, with a number being lead by the woodwind. When the two come together it creates a sweet and gentle character that is soon dismantled by the boisterous strings. The high energy dissipates and makes way for a dreamy central section which showcases Bellini’s rich textures and harmonies even more. After a quick build up to the quick tempo set earlier in the piece, Sinfonia concludes boldly and in unison, offering a full-circle moment for the work. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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