Comparing the Themes of Vincenzio Bellini’s Norma and Euripedes' Medea

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Comparing the Themes of Vincenzio Bellini’s Norma and Euripedes' Medea

Vincenzio Bellini’s opera Norma is considered by many to be a reworking of Euripedes' classic Greek tragedy Medea. Both plots have many identical elements of Greek tragedy such as a chorus, unity of location, and a human decision and action culminating in tragedy. Richard Wagner greatly admired Greek tragedies, believing them to be “The highest point ever reached in human creative achievement…” (Wagner 1). In his essay Theories of Art, Wagner gives five reasons for this “artistic perfection:” 1. It represented a successful combination of the arts-- poetry, drama, costumes, mime, music, dance and song-- and as such had greater scope and expressive powers than any
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He believed that opera had the “highest potential to combine all of the arts” (Wagner 4) as Greek tragedy had done. He did not want to return to Greek tragedy but create something better with resources that the Greeks did not have. In this sense, he felt that Norma was perhaps an ideal example of this fusion he later exercised in his “Ring Cycle” (1848-1876) which was considered to be a reworking of Aeschylus’ Orestia.

Wagner had a very high opinion of Bellini’s work in general, declaring that his music gave “reckless delight in a lovely song, this opens a deeper glimpse into the inner chamber of his heart--…” (Wagner 2). Of the opera Norma itself, which he so idealized as that perfect embodiment of Greek tragedy, Wagner had much to say: “How much the Italians are helped by their form and manner, especially with certain operatic subjects—whatever that form’s one-sidedness and tawdriness in degeneration—of this Bellini affords a proof in Norma, beyond dispute his most successful composition. Here, where the poem itself soars up to the tragic height of the ancient Greeks, this form…does all but exalt the solemn, grandiose character of the whole…” (Wagner 14).

In Aristotle’s “Poetics,” tragedy is defined as “the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself: in language with pleasurable accessories, each kind brought in separately in the parts of the work...there remains, then, the intermediate kind

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