MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Setting Norma


San Francisco Opera’s season just opened last night with a production of Bellini’s Norma starring Sondra Radvanovsky and Jamie Barton and directed by Kevin Newbury.

Here’s my feature essay for the opening program:

Setting Norma: Bellini and His Librettist

Many valid comparisons can be -— and have been — made between the film industry and opera as it was practiced in the golden era of bel canto in nineteenth-century Italy: the popular appeal of these media, their value as art versus “mere” entertainment, the clout of star performers, or the grueling, nervous-breakdown-inducing production schedules to get a new work “in the can.”

Another comparison that is especially intriguing is the parallel between screenwriters and librettists. To create a commercially viable film or opera that aspires to be something more than the run-of-the-mill competition, the practitioners of these respective crafts must walk a fine line. The indispensable qualification for that goal: being able to negotiate a tricky balance between artistic ambition and originality on the one hand, and generally understood conventions that define audience expectations on the other.

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Filed under: bel canto, essay, librettists, San Francisco Opera


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