Bellini and The Norma: taste and culture

Who has never listened to “Casta Diva”, possibly performed by the Greek soprano Maria Callas? Well, this famous composition is taken from the most popular work of Vincenzo Bellini, well-known composer from Catania, to whom, in his city are dedicated the Teatro Comunale, the Villa Comunale, the Airport and the “Istituto superiore di Studi musicali di alta formazione”.
Vincenzo Bellini was born in Catania in the 1801; after obtaining a subsidy from the Intendente of Vallo (indeed, his family was in precarious economic conditions) went to study in Naples and then in Milan. Many works, commissioned to the talent of Catania, were played at “La Scala” of Milan; among them “Il Pirata”, “La straniera”, and “La sonnambula”.
Bellini reached his higher popularity with “La Norma” which, in the years to come, will become his most famous work, despite at that time its premiere was a flop.
Unfortunately, at the age of nearly 34, he died because of an intestinal infection he contracted years before.
This is the portrait that the German poet and his friend Heinrich Heine made of him: he was tall and slender, with golden and curly hair, and dreamy blue eyes; he was enterprising and cheeky, romantic and sentimental with lovers, but selfish and cynical with aspiring wives, abandoned without greeting nor a farewell letter.
The “Norma”, played at la Scala in the 1831, reflects Bellini’s style: romantic, melancholic, and dreamy. The composition of the music was quite quick, the rehearsals, instead, were fairly troubled: the artist composed eight different redactions to facilitate the execution to Giuditta Pasta, one of the most famous opera singer of the 19Th century who became, for Bellini, the ideal interpreter as well as his umpteenth flirt.
Based on a tragedy of Alexandre Soumet, the “Norma” is set in the ancient Rome and tells of the priestess Norma, secret lover of the proconsul Pollione who, then, abandoned her. Pollione, taken prisoner of the Gauls, refuses to reveal the name of the priestess and for that is sentenced to death; therefore, Norma pleads guilty and is killed with her beloved.
Bu not everybody knows that a speciality from Catania is dedicated to the artist, as a culinary tribute: the “pasta alla Norma”, even if someone associates its birth to Nino Martoglio, well-known theatre actor from Catania. According to the first version, a Sicilian chef created this pasta for the evening of the opera’s debut. According to the second version, instead, during a lunch at Musco’s house, the actor, tasting the pasta, yelled to the cook in the Sicilian dialect “Signora Saridda, chista è ‘na vera Norma!” (transl: “Mrs Sara, this is the real Norma!); an expression that denotes something done with the highest standard.

In any case, this local deliciousness is an indirect and heartfelt tribute to the composer from Catania.
Indeed, for those who come in Catania and want to taste the typical flavours of our territory is a must to eat “Pasta alla Norma”, one the most beloved pasta dishes of the Sicilian tradition!
The recipe is easy and quick, and made up of few and genuine ingredients: tomato sauce, eggplant, and ricotta salata:
cook the past, usually macaroni, and prepare the sauce: cut the tomatoes and cook them in a pan with oil and onion; then, strain them through a sieve. Cut the eggplant into slices or cubes and fry them in a pan plenty of oil; let’s drain the pasta and season it with the sauce, the fried eggplant and a rich grated of ricotta salata.
Edited by Luana Indelicato
Translation curated by Giulia Cusumano
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