Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)


Musicology (Music)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Karen Henson

Second Committee Member

Melissa de Graaf

Third Committee Member

Alan O. Johnson


Giuditta Pasta was an outstanding attrice cantante (“singing actress”) in early nineteenth-century Italy. Vincenzo Bellini composed Norma for her in 1831, which became one of his most significant works and established Pasta’s position and reputation within Europe. In this thesis I draw on studies by Mary Ann Smart, Melina Esse, and Susan Rutherford in order to investigate the connections between Bellini’s melodic writing and Pasta’s bel canto singing and physical expression in Norma. In doing so I make a contribution to recent debates about music and performance. The title role of Norma is a priestess who has a strong personality and who is at the same time a woman betrayed by her husband. In order to portray this complicated character, Bellini makes extensive use of ornamentation, including appoggiaturas and turns. I analyze three numbers from three different scenes of the opera, one of them is the well-known aria “Casta diva,” and argue that the appoggiaturas and turns in Norma are not only embellishments, but also function as “sighing” figures and thematic elements. I suggest that Bellini exploits appoggiaturas in Norma in both prosodic and melodic situations as imitations of human “sighs.” In addition, the turns and turn-like figures are essential thematic elements of the composer’s melodies. Drawing on both Rutherford’s research and reviews and other early nineteenth-century sources, I draw comparisons between Pasta’s singing and acting and those of other contemporary sopranos. I also situate the soprano within the larger theatrical context of the period. I ultimately argue that Pasta’s acting and physical expression lay between a neoclassical approach, which was centered on the imitation of Greek statues, and a more Romantic emphasis on dynamism and using the body to produce what was often described as “living” stage picture. Enriching my discussion of Pasta’s ornamentation is an unpublished notebook that was left by the soprano Adelaide Kemble, who studied with Pasta in the 1830s. The thesis concludes by comparing the ornamentation in the notebook with Bellini’s original and suggests that early nineteenth-century sopranos’ performance of his “sighing” ornamentation may have been more individual and dramatic than Bellini’s scores suggest.


Giuditta Pasta; Bellini; Norma; ornament; attrice cantante; operatic performance; gesture