'Casta Diva' Lyrics, Translation, and History

From Vincenzo Bellini's Famous Opera 'Norma'

Photo of Joan SUTHERLAND and NORMA
Redferns / Getty Images

Sung in the first act of Vincenzo Bellini’s famous opera, "Norma," the high priestess Norma is visited by a group of angry Druids. They beseech her to declare war on Rome after the Roman soldiers occupied the Druids’ land and began oppressing their citizens. Norma assuages their fury and convinces them that now is not the time to fight. If they are patient, the Romans will fall by their own doing; an intervention is not necessary. Norma sings a prayer to the moon goddess asking her for peace. What is not known by the other Druids is that Norma has fallen in love with a Roman. She secretly hopes no war will be fought so that her lover will be safe.

Casta Diva Italian Lyrics

Casta Diva, che inargenti
queste sacre antiche piante,
a noi volgi il bel sembiante
senza nube e senza vel...
Tempra, o Diva,
tempra tu de’ cori ardenti
tempra ancora lo zelo audace,
spargi in terra quella pace
che regnar tu fai nel ciel…

Casta Diva English Translation

Pure Goddess, whose silver covers
These sacred ancient plants,
we turn to your lovely face
unclouded and without veil...
Temper, oh Goddess,
the hardening of you ardent spirits
temper your bold zeal,
Scatter peace across the earth
Thou make reign in the sky...

Recommended "Casta Diva" Sopranos and Recordings

  • Dame Joan Sutherland (watch on YouTube)
    Just as many people believe Maria Callas is the only Tosca, thanks to her incredible performances of Puccini's aria, "Vissi d'Arte", Dame Joan Sutherland is thought to be the only Norma that matters. She set the bar. Her powerful voice soars effortlessly through the aria's high notes and ornamentation.
  • Beverley Sills (watch on YouTube)
    We have to agree with one of the YouTube commenters about Sills performance - her warmth of tone and sweetness of voice seems to be the most fitting for this aria (it is a prayer sung to the moon goddess, after all).
  • Renee Fleming (watch on YouTube)
    This is a favorite recording of Bellini's "Casta Diva." After listening to the performance, you'll understand why. Fleming performs with such ease and clarity, it allows the music to outshine the singer. What's more, her diction is impeccable.
  • Montserrat Caballe (watch on YouTube)
    You'll get goosebumps listening to Montserrat Caballe sing the last few bars of the aria - her powerful forte voice fades into almost whisper-like pianissimo. 

History of Bellini's Opera, "Norma"

Vincenzo Bellini began composing the opera, "Norma," after negotiating a two-opera contract with the managing members of the La Scala and La Fenice Italian opera houses in 1830. "Norma" was set to premiere at La Scala in Milan the following year, while his second opera, "Beatrice di Tenda," was set to premiere at La Fenice in Venice in 1832. Bellini chose to set Alexandre Soumet's French play "Norma, ossia L'infanticidio" (Norma, or The Infanticide) to music and picked Felice Romani to write the libretto. Romani, born in 1788 and died in 1865, was an Italian poet with interests in French literature, antiquities, and mythology, and he was highly sought after - he wrote well over 50 librettos including those for Bellini, Donizetti, and many other well-known composers. Both Bellini and Romani were highly respected in their fields so they often butted heads over the libretto due to their stubbornness to change their opinions and concede to a compromise. After much debate and deliberation, when the libretto was finally finished Bellini was able to set it to music. "Norma" premiered at La Scala on Dec. 26, 1831, and it was a great success. Since its creation and premiere, Bellini's "Norma" is regarded as the best example of "bel canto" music.