>When Renee Fleming announced that upon consideration she would not, in fact, be singing Norma at the Met (or anyplace else), my first thought was, good call, Renee, but my second was to wonder if writers have any equivalent kind of challenge.
Bellini’s Norma is something of a Mount Everest for sopranos. She’s an allegedly virginal Druid priestess who has in fact been getting it on with with one of the occupying Romans with two children resulting. Then she finds out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her with her number-one handmaiden, Adalgisa. They sing a duet of “Does He Love You (the Way He Loves Me)?” later popularized by Reba McEntire and Linda Davis. Then Norma thinks about killing the children but instead decides to kill herself, and the boyfriend, realizing how good he had it, joins her in self-immolation.
It’s passionate stuff, as you can see, but the challenge comes from marrying the drama with the sheer technical difficulty of Bellini’s bel canto music–lots of fast scales, trills and other coloratura magic coupled with tons of close harmony. You need a big but agile voice and those are rare. There haven’t been any hugely acclaimed Normas since Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland (although I’ve been hearing good things about a recent Edita Gruberova recording). But every big-girl soprano has it in her landscape if not in her sights: will I do it? Can I do it? Will I disgrace myself? etc.
But writers have to make it up for themselves every time; we don’t say, “yeah, Holes was great, but when’s he going to write Walk Two Moons?” I do know that children’s writers, particularly, face the “so when are you going to write a real book” question, but only from amateurs. Is there a mountain a writer is expected to climb? Do you feel the need to write a Big Book? We’ll leave the question of whether you should kill yourself, your boyfriend, your best friend, or your children for another time.