/ The Making of BYSO’s Norma

BYSO's Norma. Photo by Michael J. Lutch.


Since 2008, BYSO has immersed young musicians and audiences of all ages in the magic of opera. As the only youth orchestra to present a semi-staged opera, the production is an incredibly unique experience for BYSO students. Productions of such a grand scale require incredible dedication from everyone involved, coming to life in a stunning convergence of art forms. Take a look behind the scenes to see what made Norma special!

Becoming Norma

Though Italian soprano Serena Farnocchia has sung the supporting role of Adalgisa in Bellini’s Norma numerous times, her performance with Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras last week was her debut in the iconic titular role. Considered one of opera’s most challenging undertakings, Norma embodies the bel canto—literally “beautiful singing”—style, described by Serena as “putting all the emotion, drama, agility, and line into something that is very beautiful; every note must be beautifully shaped.” However, the tumultuous emotions Norma experiences throughout this dramatic opera often lend themselves to anything but beauty. Betrayed by her unfaithful husband Pollione and her fickle confidante Adalgisa, Norma has lost everything and vows a horrible revenge. Serena prepared for this “dream role” by building off of a technically solid musical foundation, then incorporating the text, and finally layering the story’s complex emotions. While each singer develops their own personal relationship with any role, it can be helpful to learn how other singers resolve difficult moments in the score.

Serena Farnocchia as Norma (left), Norma with with Ashley Dixon as Adalgisa (right). Photos by Michael J. Lutch.

Serena took inspiration from two of opera’s most famous leading ladies: Maria Callas, whom she called “the master,” and Renata Scotto, with whom she had the honor of working and discussing the role in an earlier production. Serena believes the singers and the orchestra must “work together to convey the text and the emotion as well as the notes,” saying “it’s important to listen to what’s happening on stage; we’re a team and in this together.” Serena was very impressed by the BYS musicians' exceptional level, thanks to their commitment, their skill, and the wise management of Maestro Cortese. Bravi to the exceptional cast, crew, and BYS musicians for the enthusiastic energy they brought to the timeless classic, working together to create a story that still feels emotive and modern in 2024.

Norma's Cultural Impact

Since its premiere in 1831, Bellini’s Norma has inspired countless singers who dreamed of embodying the virtuoso vocalism and soaring melodies of this powerful opera. The Greek-American soprano Maria Callas was the most prolific Norma, appearing in 89 stage performances throughout her career. She made her Met debut in the role in 1956, her unusual combination of power and flexibility and legendary dramatic ability made Norma a perfect fit for her talents. Italian soprano Renata Scotto premiered the role at the Met in 1981 and immediately drew comparisons to Callas, who had died four years prior. Four audience members were arrested after heckling Scotto that night, shouting “Viva Callas” during the iconic aria “Casta diva.” Nonetheless the dramatic intensity Scotto achieved electrified audiences and elicited the highest praise from her fellow opera stars.

Listen to how singers Maria Callas and Renata Scotto interpret “Casta diva”.

Bringing the Score to Life

Every year, the process of creating the opera shines as one of the most memorable, if not rewarding aspects of the BYSO experience.

“The opera experience at BYS throughout the years has been consistently magical and never fails to disappoint as the highlight of the year and the period where our orchestra forms the strongest bonds and develops our collective sound the most.” – Esther, viola

Opera preparation at camp in August. Photos by Michael J. Lutch.

"I am continuously amazed by the sitzprobe every year when the singers join us for the first time. From the screening at camp to our last dress rehearsal, watching the opera come to life is an unforgettable experience." - Angie, horn

Making Their Opera Debut

This year, friends and BYSO parents Michael Berk and Allan Goldstein took the stage for their opera debut. After winning the walk-on role in last year's Gala auction, the two portrayed the druid guards who bring Pollione onstage after his capture. Michael's daughter Sophie and Allan's son Henry were surprised to see their dads at dress rehearsal!

Michael and Allan on stage (left, photo by Michael J. Lutch), and with their kids Henry and Sophie (right).

Reflecting on the experience, Michael and Allan have come to appreciate all the intricate work and details of putting together the opera: "It was so interesting to see how things come together with teamwork and camaraderie. It is truly a world-class production!"

We couldn't be more proud of the incredible determination and perseverance of everyone who made Norma a success. Bravi tutti!

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