Is there a bigger opera earworm than Casta Diva?

Is there a bigger opera earworm than Casta Diva?


norman lebrecht

August 07, 2014

I went last night to see my first Norma for 20 years and found myself wondering all over again why Bellini had put his best aria just 20 minutes into the piece, leaving the rest of the first act hanging in limbo.

During which time I tried to think of a more persistent earworm than Cast Diva, and couldn’t.

Can you?


Greatest of all?

joan sutherland norma




  • Simon S. says:

    Well, “Meco all’altar di Venere” and “Me protegge e me difende” (apologies for possibly incorrect spelling) are kind of earworms, too. And the duet of Pollione and Adalgisa isn’t bad either.

    I’d rather say: “Casta diva” is so enormously fantastic that the really good music of the rest of the first act is necessarily overshadowed.

  • DLowe says:

    I don’t think it does overshadow the rest of act I. It always seems to go from one treat to another. ‘Va Crudele’ is superb – the music for Adalgisa and Norma in particular is sublime.

    As for earworms generally, I think ‘La Donna e mobile’ is probably the trump there. The Brindisi from La Traviata, maybe. ‘Die Hölle Rache’? For Bellini, I think you’re probably right that Casta Diva is his earworm.

    Alternatively, one could flick Classic FM on and get an entire sequence of earworms….

  • sdReader says:

    Norman, listen to the Bartoli/Jo recording. It isn’t perfect, but the excitement is in the right places, the voices are properly aligned, tension builds where it should, and both acts have fitting climactic shape. Casta diva sits exactly as it should, in this context.

    It will take years for the opera to be routinely performed properly, given its entrenchment in the repertory in the wrong form. But this change will happen.

    Sorry you hit a bad one. Assume this was in London … .

  • Michael Volpe says:

    Not sure Norman said he had hit a bad one!
    I find Norma punctuated by extraordinary music (the Norma/Adalgisa duets, the trio, “Guerra Guerra” and in particular the final aria and hymn is utterly sublime). But I have to be honest and say much of it is absolute drivelous bilge and rumtitum nonsense! However, the show Norman saw was at Opera Holland Park and Yvonne Howard is superb in it.

    • sdReader says:

      Not to be snotty, but I doubt an outfit like Opera Holland Park is up to the challenge, individual role assumptions like Yvonne Howard’s notwithstanding.

      If you have reservations about the work itself, I can only repeat what I wrote to NL, re. the new Decca.

      • Michael Volpe says:

        Well, with all due respect SDReader, you are being snotty! I don’t know where you are based or whether you know anything about OHP but we have a pretty decent record. You can get quite a bit of info on the web, both about us and this production. But I’m not the thought police so it is up to you what you think.
        Norman did not criticise the production but the opera and I partly agree with him. It is an oddly inconsistent piece with exceptional highs and quite a few lows. The highs outweigh the lows, evidenced by the fact it has now twice been the fastest selling show we have had – we added a performance to this run. Richard Mantle from Opera North was in two nights ago and he too said it was their fastest selling show ever.

        • sdReader says:

          And “much of it is absolute drivelous bilge” is respectful?

          As OHP general manager, you ought to believe in the works you present. Bellini’s Norma needs no qualifiers: it is a masterpiece of a certain style and period, not a show. Its strength justifies your subsidy, while the speed of ticket sales is evidence only of your marketing competence.

          This morning Opera Holland Park was just a name to me. Now I know better.

          • Michael Volpe says:

            Actually, I think drivelous bilge is no more than a fruity expression of my opinion.
            Since you mention it, as General Manager of OHP I have a duty to believe in the productions of the works we present, not always the work itself. I dislike, intensely, several operas we have produced over the years. That does not mean that I do not of course understand what appeals to the greater majority of people who attend and love them, because I do, to a very acute degree actually. But I don’t have to like the operas we put on. Norma does contain some extremely poor and unappealing narrative music but, as I said, also includes some extraordinary music which explains its popularity.
            My issue was that you dismissed our company as being unable to produce the opera without knowing the situation which you might expect me, after so many years building a significant London event, to take a little bit of umbrage with.

          • sdReader says:

            How do you believe in the production of something without believing in the something?

            Where exactly is Bellini’s “extremely poor and unappealing narrative music”?

            With all due respect to you, I find your comments sincere but bizarre, coming from the head of an opera festival.

  • Sixtus says:

    You sound pretty snotty to me! How can you possibly have an opinion about a performance you haven’t attended?

  • esfir ross says:

    You forgot to include Monserat Caballe the unparallel , sublime “Casta Diva”! Especially her singing in 70th. Only her inspired my performance of Thalberg -Bellini Transcription.

  • Ks. Christopher Robson says:

    Excuse me, but NL did NOT imply he hit a bad one (which was, yes, in London and yes, OHP were pretty well up to the challenge, I believe from reports from various of my professional colleagues). But your point about the form is well made. I too enjoyed the Bartoli/Jo recording (though I am not particularly a Bartoli fan) and the approach to an often hackneyed piece.

  • MWnyc says:

    I agree with DLowe. “La donna è mobile” is a far stickier and more irksome earworm that “Casta diva: could ever be.

  • Michael Volpe says:

    SDReader, Dp you really find it bizarre that I don’t like all of the operas we produce? Really?

    I can certainly believe in a production, interpretation and oerformance of an opera I do not like. That is a professional approach that sets aside my personal opinion of a work. Our festival produces lots of works I love, especially the rarities we are known for and I of course love a great many of the classics. For example, I am not a huge fan of Barbiere di Siviglia but we gave a brilliant production of it and thousands of people who attended are generally very fond if it. Which is why we gave it. I am not a huge Britten fan, and we have been reluctant to produce him but we di this year to very substantial critical acclaim – and as it happens I did come to see Nritten operas in a new light as a consequence.

    If you think all managements of opera house love the works they are producing you would be misguided. We don’t. But that doesn’t at all mean that the work is not produced with due reverence and respect, mostly for the audiences we serve. The concept of us not being terrifically fond of a piece and the audience we serve being so are not mutually exclusive.

    • sdReader says:

      No. I find the idea bizarre that you can produce something without believing in it, and I find your comments about this landmark 1831 score fatuous, given that you work in opera. Do you know where the artform was in the 1820s?

      You are not merely saying you dislike Norma. You are making uninformed statements about Bellini’s work, which in fact advances compositional technique in the accompaniments to the vocal lines, just to land where one of your remarks seems to go. Such comments might elicit a giggle over cocktails with donors. Otherwise, you sound like someone in a privileged position who doesn’t know his field and would be just as happy mounting My Fair Lady or No Sex, Please, We’re British: the Musical.

      Try to be more like John Tooley or Lord Harewood.

  • Michael Volpe says:

    You appear determined to miss the point I have made several times.
    I sincerely don’t have a need to prove my credentials to you. And I know all about Bellini. You caricature is silly and childish. Thanks.

    • sdReader says:

      Mr. Volpe, I took and take your point that you’re allowed to dislike a given opera!

      And I think it’s good that OHP exists. Better to exist than not.

      But I object to your tearing down a masterpiece of the repertory. You ought to know better, considering your position.

      You never answered my question: Where exactly is Bellini’s “extremely poor and unappealing narrative music”?

      We can leave it there.

  • Michael Volpe says:

    I have not “torn down” the opera in the least. Quite the contrary. If, by pointing out that I believe there to be some dreary and entirely unaffecting music amidst the glorious stuff, I am “tearing down a masterpiece” then so be it. I don’t think I am. You should realise that I am, at present listening to the opera every other night in full and by the end will have heard it perhaps ten or twelve times in the space of tweny five days; that gives one a very thorough impression of a piece and in particular because one is hearing it in a dramatic context and with live orchestra and performers. And I find myself irritated by much of it and astounded by much of it. Masterpieces, such as they are, suffer from flaws and I think Norma has a few but they are not fatal. Masterpieces can also be subjective. I think every note and beat of L’amore dei tre Re is a masterpiece but I am aware I am among a very few people to think so. I loathe and detest every single note of Carmen, but still put it on and understand why it is so popular – I simply don’t like it, in any single way.

    Someone “in my position'” is not obliged to be in anyway wedded emotionally to the source works we produce. We should understand them, appreciate them and serve the public who support us, but I retain the right to loathe them if that is the case (I don’t loathe Norma!) You obviously, by your comments previous, think this means I am somehow of poor intellectual or musicological qualification – compared to some, I probably am – but I am not the one who has made the assumptions and I am sure there are many reading this thread who will know precisely what my and OHP’s role in developing operatic repertoire in London has been. They may also vouch for the entirely honourable and at times sensational treatment we have given the accepted masterpieces.

    I am always hinest with my opinions. And that extends to often locking horns over what flaws exist with operas and composers of whom I am fond.

    All the best

  • Barbara says:

    Well, Michael Volpe I congratulate you. You have kept your cool and explained very well what your position entails. All power to your elbow.