The local bel canto revival continues, with the first performance of Normain Melbourne for many years. Melbourne Opera, which has already contributed greatly to the revival with recent Australian productions of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereuxand Anna Bolena, has found a soprano who can climb what’s been described as “the Everest of opera.” As Norma, Helena Dix leads a capable cast in a new production that, despite its muddled period setting, succeeds through simplicity of design.

Helena Dix in Melbourne Opera’s  Norma. Photo © Robin Halls

First performed at La Scala in 1831, Bellini’s tale of ancient Gaul druids versus invading Romans centres on the priestess Norma, the Roman proconsul Pollione, with whom she has secretly had two children, and her young acolyte, Adalgisa, who has now caught Pollione’s eye. Secretly fearing for her lover, Norma has advised her people, including the chief druid, her father Oroveso, not to wage war on the invaders. However, Pollione’s altered affections and imminent return to Rome prompts wildly oscillating emotions in Norma, from despair to vengeance, which fuel dramatic confrontations, reconciliations and a fiery finale.

A specialist in bel canto, which means ‘beautiful singing’, Melbourne-born Dix certainly...