Metropolitan Opera 2017-18 Preview: Callas, Sutherland, Radvanovsky & The Met’s Famous ‘Norma’

By David Salazar

A Metropolitan Opera season will start with Bellini’s “Norma” for the third time in its history when Sondra Radvanovsky, who conquered the role at the Met a few years back, takes it on on Sept. 25, 2017.

Radvanovsky will join a long line of famous sopranos that have taken on the opera with the company, beginning with Lilli Lehman, who first sang the role on Feb. 27, 1890. She performed the Bellini work six times at the Met.

The following singer to conquer the Priestess was Rosa Ponselle, who took on Norma 29 times at the Met, starting on Nov. 16, 1927, all the way through 1932.

Then it was Gina Cigna’s turn to perform the opera six times from Feb. 20, 1937, through Jan. 1, 1938.

In 1943, it was Zinka Milanov’s turn to step into the shoes of tragic heroine. She would dominate the opera at the Met for the next decade, performing it 16 times. Her final showcase in the work came on April 15, 1954.

The Superstars

Then came the big one. On Opening Night of the 1956-57 season, Maria Callas arrived at the Met to take on the role that is widely recognized as her finest. It was also her debut with the company, making the moment all the more powerful. Callas would only sing the role that season, but her impact would remain thereafter.

In fact, her impact was so great that the opera was not presented again until 1970 when Dame Joan Sutherland showcased her interpretation. She performed the opera a whopping 27 times, every single one of them in between March and December 1970.

Three years later, Monserrat Caballé would become the Met’s next “Norma,” singing the opera 11 times. Her final showcase in the role came on March 6, 1976.

In between Caballé’s showcases, Met audiences also saw Rita Hunter as Norma for five performances in 1975.

Shirley Verrett would be the next big interpreter at the Met, singing the role for the first time in April 1976, albeit in Massachusetts as part of the yearly tour. She took on the role 10 times with the company, seven at the house in New York.

In 1979, Marisa Galvany would make her Met debut in the role of Norma, her only showcase in the role and just one of nine performances she gave with the company in her career.

The second opening night “Norma” took place on Sept. 21, 1981, with a cast featuring Renata Scotto in the title role, Plácido Domingo as Polione and Tatiana Troyanos as Adalgisa. Scotto famously struggled with these performances, singing the opera 14 times over the course of the 1981-82 season, including eight performances on the tour.

Disappearance For Decades

Then “Norma” suddenly disappeared from the repertoire for a whopping 19 years. In 2001 Jane Eaglen took on the priestess, singing it seven times that season.

Another six-year gap was ended in 2007 by Hasmik Papian, who performed the role four times in the 2007-08 season. Maria Guleghina filled in for three performances at the end of that same run.

And then in 2013, Radvanovsky made her mark in the role, taking it on seven times that season. Angela Meade would close out the run, featuring in the final two performances.

Both Radvanovsky and Meade will sing in this year’s new David McVicar production, but they will also be joined by Marina Rebeka, who is set to sing two performances of the show.

Who has been your favorite Met “Norma?”