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

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

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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 of the arts alone. 2. It took its subject matter from myth, which illuminates the human experience in universal terms. (“The myth is true for all times.” (Wagner 2)) 3. Both the content and the occasion of performance had religious significance. 4. It was a religion of humanism and a celebration of life, even in death. 5. The entire community took part. Medea also deals heavily with the themes of female jealousy, its capabilities, and infanticide, as does Norma. Norma exhibits not only the embodiment of these themes, but also exhibits Wagner’s theories of effectiveness of Greek tragedy, therefore qualifying Bellini’s opera to be as effective in portraying the classic ideals of Greek tragedy as its counterpart, Medea.

Wagner believed that as time went on, Greek art slowly disintegrated, each individual art going a separate way, developing alone—instrumentals without words, poetry without music, drama without either, etc. He believed it further disintegrated with the introduction of Christiani...


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...s; Medea; Trans. Rex Warner. The Harcourt Brace Anthology of Drama: Third Edition. Orlando: Harcourt, 2000.

Georgousi, Fotini; Tragic Women: Plotting and Transgressing; Minnesota University Press; 2001.

McIver, Barbara Basore, B.A., M.A.; Good Girls, Bad Girls and Heroines; Models from Myth; University of Akansas Press; 1968.

Plunka, Gene A. Ed. Antonin Artaud and the Modern Theater; New Jersey: Associated UP, 1994.

Romani, Felice; Norma (libretto) trans. Olcese, Stefano, 2000.

Romani, Frederico; Alexandre Soumet and his Three Muses; Minnesota Opera Pubs. 2003.

Schumacher, Claude and Brian Singleton. Eds. Artaud on Theatre; London: Methuen, 1989.

Sferro, Nuccio; Norma Libretto Notes; Stanford University Press, 2000.

Wagner, Richard; Bellini: A Word in Season; trans. William Ashton Ellis; Wagner’s Prose Works Vol. 8 pp. 67-69, 1899.

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