Soprano Angela Meade has sung the title role of "Norma" several times since her debut performance at the Caramoor Festival in 2010, but the Bellini opera opening in the Kennedy Center Opera House this week is her first staged production.

"Both the music and the character are so complex, and yet it suits me well because the music plays to my particular strengths," she said. "Even though Norma is a druid, she is so human and so real that I can portray all her emotions, from rage to falling in love and even wanting to do away with the children she loves because she is being cheated on. The plot is like a Jerry Springer opera.

"When I discovered the aria 'Casta diva,' I had no idea that it belongs to one of the most challenging roles in opera. It simply happened. I was looking for an aria that fit my voice when I discovered it and I knew nothing of the complications in the story. Since the music was perfect for me, I began taking it to competitions and winning. That convinced me I was on to something.

"Competitions are a great way to hone the package and develop stage skills, and by the time I was in grad school at [the University of Southern California], I'd go out every weekend to compete. In time, I entered competitions all over the United States and the world singing that aria. I won so many that when I'd come back to school Monday morning, the other students would ask me what I won. That went on for several years until Will Crutchfield, the opera director of the Caramoor asked if I'd thought about singing the role."

If you go
Bellini's 'Norma'
» Where: Kennedy Center Opera House
» When: Saturday through March 24
» Info: $25 to $300; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324;

Meade did not have to think long. Her subsequent performance was deemed a tremendous success. Even before Caramoor, Meade sang "Casta diva" at the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and proceeded to win once again. As part of her award, she was assigned to cover the role of Elvira in Verdi's "Ernani." Just as in the storybooks, the soprano singing the role became ill and Meade stepped onto the stage at the last minute. The critics were impressed.

"I was super excited when I learned that I'd be singing the role," she recalls. "I'd always fantasized about such a situation even though most times it never happens. The Met Competition gave me the greatest boost to my career and the opportunity to sing that role. I always love great music. That comes before the character. Elvira is not so exciting, but she sings great music.

Meade soon returned to the Met as the Countess in Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro." She followed that engagement as Elisabetta in Donizetti's "Roberto Devereux" at the Dallas Opera, in the title role of Rossini's "Semiramide" at the Caramoor Festival, and as "Anna Bolena" and "Lucia de Lammermoor" at the Academy of Vocal Arts. Her concert appearances include debuts with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, the San Antonio Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Shortly before arriving in Washington, she sang the role of Leonora in the Met's production of Verdi's "Il trovatore" and currently looks forward to singing in its upcoming productions of "Norma" and "Falstaff."

"This past November, I made my Kennedy Center debut in a recital," she said. "A recital takes place in an intimate space, like a living room, while opera is like being drawn into a movie. They are different, but I enjoy them both.

"I've always enjoyed learning something new, but now I realize that it's hard to get into a character with only one performance. Since I've sung 'Norma' a number of times, I find that repeating the role helps to put the character on her feet. I hope the Washington audience is prepared to come to this opera and be sucked into the story."