Long Story Short

A supposedly chaste priestess is driven to murderous jealousy by her lover's inconstancy. But she forgoes vengence, protects innocence, and sees to it that the guilty atone for their crimes.

Who's Who?

Norma is the all-powerful "virgin" priestess of Irminsul; she's a wonderfully complicated human being who sings some of the most taxing music in all opera.

Oroveso her father, is the head of the Druids, the ruling class among the Gauls. He hates everything Roman.

Pollionethe handsome Roman proconsul in Gaul, is Oroveso's enemy and the father of Norma's children.

Adalgisa a priestess-in-training at Norma's temple, is Pollione's new love.

Clotilde is Norma's friend and cares for her children.

Flavio is a Roman centurion.

Where and When?

The story is set during the Roman occupation of Gaul (meaning France, probably in the first century B.C.). The action happens in the sacred forest and temple of Irminsul.

What's Going On?

The Gauls are itching to rise up in revolt against their Roman conquerors, but their rebellious spirit is held in check by Norma, the Druid high priestess. Norma convinces her followers not to go to war, mostly because she's still in love with Pollione, the leader of the local Romans. In fact, Norma has secretly had two children with Pollione, despite the vow of chastity she swore when she became a priestess. A younger priestess, Adalgisa, is about to take the vows and enter the order, when Pollione grows tired of Norma, falls in love with Adalgisa, and asks her to abandon the Druids and come with him to Rome. Adalgisa doesn't know what to do.

Adalgisa explains her situation to her mentor, Norma, and asks for advice. Norma suddenly understands why Pollione has been so cold to her recently. Furious with Pollione and with herself, Norma intends to kill their children but finds herself incapable of doing so. She asks Adalgisa to go with Pollione to Rome and raise Norma's children as her own. But Adalgisa refuses; she has chosen to renounce the fickle Pollione and become a priestess. Adalgisa encourages Pollione to return to Norma, but he plans to take Adalgisa with him to Rome, with or without her consent. The enraged Norma summons her army and tells them the time to attack the Romans is at hand.

Once Pollione is her prisoner, Norma offers to spare his life if he will give up Adalgisa and love her once again. He refuses, so Norma tells the Druids to prepare a pyre for a human sacrifice: one of the priestesses, she explains, has broken her vows and must die. Pollione expects her to name Adalgisa, but Norma admits that she herself is the guilty one. Inspired by her bravery, Pollione chooses to die with the woman he loved, then wronged, and now loves again. Together they ascend the funeral pyre.

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