In the 1st century A.D. Gaul is occupied by the Romans. Oroveso, head of the druids, and the Gauls are waiting the high priestess and daughter of Oroveso, Norma, to reveal the will of the God Irminsul, and therefore a sign for the war against the Romans to start (“Ite sul colle, o Druidi”).
During their regular patrol, the roman proconsul Pollione tells his friend Flavio that he is no longer in love with his secret lover Norma. He has fallen for the novice Adalgisa. Norma has already given him two sons (“Meco all’altar di Venere”).
Norma arrives at the temple and tells the Gauls that the time is not ready for war (“Sediziose voci” – “Casta diva”).
After everyone has left, the novice Adalgisa arrives at the altar and prays to the God because she has fallen in love with the proconsul Pollione. He surprises her and persuades her to go with him to Rome (“Va’, crudele, e al dio spietato”).
Meanwhile, Norma and Clotilde, the only one who knows about her two sons, are with the children in Norma’s home. Norma heard that Pollione has to go back to Rome but she is not sure that he will take her and the two children with him anymore. Clotilde hides the two sons before Adalgisa’s arrival. Adalgisa wants to break her vow to follow her lover (“Sola, furtiva al tempio”). Norma is ready to release Adalgisa from her vow, but when she learns that Pollione is the lover, her love towards him changes into hate (“Oh, di qual sei tu vittima”). At this moment the holy bell is heard and Norma has to go into the temple for the ceremony.