La sonnambula (The Sleepwalker) is an opera semiseria in two acts, with music in the bel canto tradition by Vincenzo Bellini to an Italian libretto by Felice Romani, based on a scenario for a ballet-pantomime by Eugène Scribe and Jean-Pierre Aumer called La somnambule, ou L'arrivée d'un nouveau seigneur.
The role of Amina was originally written for the soprano sfogato Giuditta Pasta and the tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini, but during Bellini's lifetime another soprano sfogato, Maria Malibran, was a notable exponent of the role. The first performance took place at the Teatro Carcano (it) in Milan on 6 March 1831.
The majority of twentieth-century recordings have been made with a soprano cast as Amina, usually with added top-notes and other changes according to tradition, although it was released in soprano sfogato voice (not be confused with the modern mezzo, nonexistent at the time) who sang soprano and contralto roles unmodified.
The phrase Ah! non credea mirarti / Sì presto estinto, o fiore ("I did not believe you would fade so soon, oh flower") from Amina's final aria is inscribed on Bellini's tomb in the Catania Cathedral in Sicily.
With its pastoral setting and story, La sonnambula was an immediate success and is still regularly performed. The title role of Amina (the sleepwalker) with its high tessitura is renowned for its difficulty, requiring a complete command of trills and florid technique.
It was a vehicle for showcasing Jenny Lind, Emma Albani and—in the early 20th century—for Lina Pagliughi and Toti Dal Monte. The opera was rescued from the ornamental excesses and misrepresentations more similar to the baroque than the bel canto of Bellini when it was sung by Maria Callas—in the now-famous 1955 production by Luchino Visconti at La Scala. Joan Sutherland sang Amina at the Metropolitan Opera in 1963.
While not part of the standard repertory, La sonnambula is performed reasonably frequently and, in the 21st century, it has been given in three productions with Natalie Dessay, the first at The Santa Fe Opera in 2004, secondly in Paris during the 2006/2007 season, and thirdly at the Metropolitan Opera in 2009, a production which revived in Spring 2014 with Diana Damrau singing the role of Amina. A production was mounted by The Royal Opera in London in 2011. The first mezzo-soprano to record the role was Frederica von Stade on 1980, followed by Cecilia Bartoli in 2013.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast, 6 March 1831
(Conductor: Nicola Zamboni Petrini)
|Count Rodolfo||bass||Luciano Mariani|
|Elvino||tenor||Giovanni Battista Rubini|
|Villagers – Chorus|
Scene 1: A village, a mill in the background
Lisa, the proprietress of the inn, is consumed with jealousy as the betrothal procession of Amina and Elvino, who had once been betrothed to her, approaches. She spurns the lovelorn Alessio. Amina thanks her friends for their kind wishes and particularly her foster-mother Teresa, owner of the mill, who had adopted her as an orphan. She thanks Alessio, who had composed the wedding song and organised the celebrations, wishing him well in his courtship of Lisa, who continues to reject his advances. Elvino arrives, having stopped on his way at his mother's grave to ask her blessing on Amina. He gives Amina his mother's ring and they exchange vows.
A stranger arrives, asking the way to the castle. Lisa points out that it is getting late and he will not reach it before dark and offers him lodging at her inn. The newcomer, who surprises the villagers by his familiarity with the locality, asks about the celebrations and admires Amina, who reminds him of a girl he had loved long ago. He admits to having once stayed in the castle, whose lord has been dead for four years. When Teresa explains that his son had vanished some years previously, the stranger assures them that he is alive and will return.
As darkness approaches the villagers warn him that it is time to be indoors to avoid the village phantom, but he is not superstitious and assures them that they will soon be free of the apparition. Elvino is jealous of the stranger's admiration of Amina; he is jealous even of the breezes that caress her, but he promises her he will reform.
Scene 2: A room in the inn
Lisa tells the stranger that he has been recognised as Rodolfo, the long-lost son of the count, and warns him that the village is preparing a formal welcome. Meanwhile she will be the first to pay her respects. She is flattered when he begins a flirtation with her, but runs out, dropping a handkerchief, when a sound is heard outside.
It is Amina, who enters the room, walking in her sleep. Rodolfo, realising that her nocturnal wanderings have given rise to the story of the village phantom, is about to take advantage of her helpless state but is struck by her obvious innocence and refrains. She falls asleep on the sofa and he goes outside as the villagers are heard advancing on the inn to welcome their new lord. Lisa points to the sleeping Amina; and Elvino, believing her faithless, rejects her in fury. Only Teresa believes in her innocence.
Scene 1: A wood
On their way to ask the count to attest to Amina's innocence, the villagers meet Amina and Teresa, on a similar mission. Elvino continues to reject Amina, even when the count sends a message that she is innocent. Elvino is not convinced and takes back the ring, though he is unable to tear her image from his heart.
Scene 2: The village, as in Act I
Elvino has decided to marry Lisa. They are about to go to the church when Rodolfo tries to explain that Amina is innocent because she had not come to his room awake – she is a somnambulist, a sleepwalker, but Elvino refuses to believe him.
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Teresa begs the villagers to be quiet, because Amina has at last fallen into an exhausted sleep. Learning of the impending marriage, she confronts Lisa, who says that she has never been found alone in a man's room. Teresa produces the handkerchief Lisa had dropped. The Count refuses to comment, but continues to assert Amina's virtue. Elvino demands proof, which is dramatically produced when Amina is seen walking in her sleep across the high, dangerously unstable mill bridge. Rodolfo warns that to wake her would be fatal, so all watch as she relives her betrothal and her grief at Elvino's rejection. When she reaches the other side safely, Elvino calls to her and she wakes to find herself in his arms, to the rejoicing of all.
- "Come per me sereno" (Amina, act 1)
- "Prendi, l'anel ti dono" (duet Elvino, Amina, act 1)
- "Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni" (Rodolfo, act 1)
- "Tutto è sciolto" (Elvino, act 2)
- "Ah! non credea mirarti" (Amina, act 2)
Opera house and orchestra
Anna Maria Anelli
RAI Torino Orchestra and Chorus
|CD: Preiser Records
La Scala Orchestra and Chorus
(Recording of a performance at La Scala, 5 March)
Cat: CMS 5 67906-2
La Scala Orchestra and Chorus,
(Recording of a performance at the Edinburgh Festival, 21 August)
|CD: EMI Classics
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra and Chorus
Cat: 448 966-2; 455 823-2 (France)
National Philharmonic Orchestra
London Opera Chorus
Cat: 417 424-2
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Cat: 9356 1928/29
Francesco Ellero d'Artegna,
Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra
(Recording of a concert performance in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra de Lyon
|CD: Virgin Classics
Cat: 3 95138 2
Juan Diego Flórez,
|Alessandro De Marchi,
Orchestra La Scintilla
Cat: 478 1084
Opera house and orchestra
Anna Maria Anelli
RAI Milano Orchestra and Chorus
Directed by Mario Lanfranchi
(Video recording of a black and white television film)
|DVD: Video Artists International
RAI Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Directed by Federico Tiezzi
(Video recording made at performances in January)
|DVD: TDK DVWW
Juan Diego Flórez,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet.
Directed by Mary Zimmerman
(Video recording made at performances in March 2009)
- Eaton, p. 135
- Kimbell 1994, in Holden, p. 50
- Notes in literature accompanying the Bartoli CD recording. Retrieved on 3 June 2010.
- worldcat.org (accessed 27 December 2011)
- Recordings on La sonnambula on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
- Eaton, Quaintance (1974), Opera Production 1: A Handbook, Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-70635-0 ISBN 0-306-70635-0
- Kimbell, David (2001), in Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0-140-29312-4
- Anderson, James (1999), The Complete Dictionary of Opera and Operetta. Wings Books. ISBN 0-517-09156-9
- Budden, Julian; Forbes, Elizabeth; Maguire, Simon (1998), "La sonnambula", in Stanley Sadie, (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Four. London: MacMillan Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5
- Casa Ricordi (pub.), "Vincenzo Bellini": Outline of his life (in English) and list of critical editions of his works published by Ricordi on ricordi.it. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Galatopoulos, Stelios (2002), Bellini: Life, Times, Music: 1801-1835. London, Sanctuary Publishing Ltd. ISBN 9781860744051
- Osborne, Charles (1994), The Bel Canto Operas of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. ISBN 0931340713
- Orrey, Leslie (1973), Bellini (The Master Musicians Series), London: J. M. Dent, Ltd. ISBN 0-460-02137-0
- Rosselli, John (1996), The Life of Bellini, New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-46781-0
- Thiellay, Jean; Thiellay, Jean-Philippe (2013), Bellini, Paris: Actes Sud. ISBN 978-2-330-02377-5 (French)
- Willier, Stephen Ace (2002), Vincenzo Bellini: A Guide to Research. Routledge. ISBN 0-8153-3805-8 and on books.google.com.
- Weinstock, Herbert (1971), Bellini: His life and His Operas, New York: Knopf. ISBN 0394416562
- Media related to La sonnambula at Wikimedia Commons
- La sonnambula: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Libretto (Italian), Opera Glass, Stanford University
- Cast, synopsis (Italian, English, German), libretto (Italian, German), Opera Guide
- La sonnambula, containing the Italian text, with an English translation, and the music of all the principal airs, O. Ditson, Boston, 1900, archive.org
- Libretto in Italian and English, Testament Records (UK)
- Francis Shelton, "Bellini: La sonnambula" (review of Cecilia Bartoli's performance in the title role, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, 10 April 2008), Musical Criticism.
- Synopsis of La sonnambula, Metropolitan Opera