Here are three versions of “Casta Diva” from Bellini’s “Norma.”
(1) Anna Netrebko (1990s?), Maria Callas (1960s?) and (3) Joan Sutherland (possibly 1958) Which do you prefer?
In the first act of Bellini’s “Norma” the high priestess Norma is visited by a group of angry Druids. They plead with her to declare war on Rome, who rules them oppressively. Norma calms them down and convinces them that now is not the time to fight. If they are patient, the Romans will fall by their own doing; no intervention will be necessary. Norma sings a prayer to the moon goddess, asking her for peace. What is not known by the other Druids is that Norma has fallen in love with a Roman, Pollione.She secretly hopes no war will be fought so that her lover will be safe.
Netrebco sings Casta Diva
Callas sings Casta Diva
Casta Diva Italian Lyrics
Casta Diva, che inargenti
Pure Goddess, who covers in silver
queste sacre antiche piante,
these sacred ancient plants (oaks),
a noi volgi il bel sembiante
turn to us your beautiful face
senza nube e senza vel.
cloudless and without veil.
Tempra, o Diva,
Temper, oh Goddess,
tempra tu de’ cori ardenti,
temper of the ardent hearts,
tempra ancora lo zelo audace.
temper once more the audacious zeal (temper again the audacious zeal of ardent hearts).
Spargi in terra quella pace
Spread over the earth that peace
che regnar tu fai nel ciel… (that you have made rule in heaven).
Version of Joan Sutherland (1958)
Is it any wonder that the Italians called Joan “la stupenda”?
A classic passage in the bel canto style. The lines are simple and there are repetitions. The purpose of the aria is partly to explain the political situation but it is mostly to create atmosphere (reverence, prayer and mystery) and to show off the power and delicacy of the diva’s voice.
Someone called this aria “a pagan Ave Maria”. That’s a good way of putting it, I think.
See my website: http://www.godwinbooks.com and read the entry on my book “Operatic Italian.”