Opera Scotland

Sonnambula La Sonnambula; The Sleepwalker

Music
Vincenzo Bellini (born Catania, 3 November 1801; died Puteaux, nr Paris, 23 September 1835)

Text
Felice Romani

Source
French ballet-pantomime La somnambule, ou l’arrivée d’un nouveau Seigneur (1827) music by Ferdinand Hérold, scenario by Eugène Scribe and Jean-Pierre Aumer.

Premieres
First performance: Milan (Teatro Carcano), 6 March 1831.
First UK performance: London (King’s Theatre, Haymarket), 28 July 1831.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre-Royal) 21 December, 1835.
Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

Background
La sonnambula is rather different in mood from Bellini’s other operas in which the heroines tend toward the darkly dramatic. It is a romance set in a semi-rural community, and almost in the period of composition, and, unusually for Bellini, has a happy ending, with the unjustly abused heroine being publicly exonerated at the climax. Rather like Rossini’s Thieving Magpie, also set in rural Switzerland, the title of the piece does rather give away the final resolution, so it is the emotions generated by the convolutions of the plot which are important, rather than the mechanics of the story itself. While it has faded in popularity in Britain in recent years, the piece was hugely popular throughout the nineteenth century. It achieved 100 performances at Covent Garden by 1889, and there were regular performances in the provinces by touring companies as well as by local amateur groups.

Characters
Amina, an orphan raised by Teresa, engaged to Elvino (soprano).
Elvino, a prosperous young villager (tenor).
Count Rodolfo, an aristocrat returning from travel (bass).
Lisa, proprietor of the inn, in love with Elvino (soprano).
Teresa, the mill owner (mezzo-soprano).
Alessio, a villager, in love with Lisa (bass).
Notary (tenor).

Plot Summary
The villagers celebrate the engagement of Amina to Elvino, with the exception of Lisa, who was previously the object of his affections. After they sign the marriage contract, Elvino presents Amina with his late mother’s ring. A stranger, Rodolfo, arrives, and he is persuaded by Lisa to put up at the inn for the night, since his destination, the local castle, is too far away to reach in daylight. Amina reminds him of a girl he once knew (suggestions that Amina is probably his daughter are not followed up). He reveals that he spent some time at the castle in his childhood, and it is clear that he is the long-lost heir. As darkness falls, it becomes clear that the villagers are terrified by a ghost who haunts the village, an opinion that is ridiculed by Rodolfo. Later, at his room in the inn, Lisa flirts with him, losing her kerchief in the process, and hides when the “phantom” arrives at Rodolfo’s window. This is Amina, sleepwalking. Lisa quickly takes the opportunity to persuade Elvino that Amina must be having an affair with Rodolfo. Amina therefore awakes to find that she is rejected by Elvino and ostracised by all the villagers, except for Teresa.  Over the next few days, once ensconced at his castle, Rodolfo tries to persuade the community of Amina’s innocence, by explaining the known facts about the phenomenon of sleepwalking. Nobody is convinced, and Elvino decides to marry Lisa after all. Order is only restored when Lisa's hypocrisy is exposed, and Amina, clearly asleep and singing movingly of her heartbreak, walks precariously out of her window high up in the mill in constant danger of a fatal fall in full view of everyone else. Safely down at ground level, she awakes to general rejoicing.

The Cast

Alessio
 a villager, in love with Lisa
Amina
 an orphan, raised by Teresa
Count Rodolfo
 an aristocrat returning from travel
Elvino
 a prosperous young villager
Lisa
 proprietor of the inn
Notary
 
Teresa
 proprietor of the mill

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