Music: Marilyn at the Met

The essence of bel canto is making the vocally difficult sound delectable. Long, lung-stretching phrases, rococo trills, breathtaking leaps of voice slide into the air and ear with soft, summery ease and grace. The quintessential bel canto role is Norma, the most taxing female part in all opera. Giuditta Pasta, the first singer to try the part after Bellini created it in 1831, found it so difficult that the violins had to play out of tune deliberately to disguise her failures.

Last week New York's Metropolitan Opera offered a new Norma production with Joan Sutherland in the title role. Hardly had she...

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