La sonnambula (The Sleepwalker) by Vincenzo Bellini
During the 17th century, composers would include ‘mad’ scenes in their operas to please the famous female singers. It was especially popular with Italian and Spanish composers, and almost entirely catered for women. Sleepwalking was considered to be a mild case of madness; instead of a condition unable to be reversed, sleepwalking was seen harmless.
A ‘melodramma’ in two acts, the libretto was produced by Felice Romani who based it on the ballet-pantomime La sonnambule, ou L’arrivee d’un nouveau seigneur by Eugene Scribe in 1827.
The opera first premiered on the 6th March 1831 in Milan at the Teatro Carcano. It is set in a Swiss village during the early 19th century.
Count Rodolfo, the village lord (Bass)
Teresa, a mill owner (Mezzo-Soprano)
Amina, an orphan brought up by Teresa (Soprano)
Elvino, a wealthy landowner who is engaged to Amina (Tenor)
Lisa, an inn hostess who is in love with Elvino (Soprano)
Alessio, a villager in love with Lisa (Bass)
A Notary (Tenor)
Villagers (the Chorus)
The village is celebrating the engagement of Amina and Elvino but only Lisa is upset, for she is in love with Elvino herself. During the celebrations, a stranger arrives and takes accommodation ayt Lisa’s inn.
The stranger is Rodolfo, the son of the dead lord who has arrived unannounced to his childhood home. He makes Elvino jealous by paying compliments to Amina who he finds quite beautiful.
The celebrations end as the people say a mischievous sprit is causing trouble in the dark. Lisa visits Rodolfo in his room where they are disturbed by a noise. Lisa flees but leaves her shawl behind.
Amina arrives in Rodolfo’s room, sleepwalking. Rodolfo realises she is asleep and leaves her in his room.
The next day, the villagers arrive to pay respect to the new count but find Amina asleep in his bed. When he finds out, Elvino breaks off the engagement.
Amina protests her innocence but no one listens to her or the count’s claims of her sleepwalking. Elvino decides that he will marry Lisa instead, but Teresa shows him her shawl she found in Rodolfo’s bedroom. Elvino now feels betrayed by both women and does not know what to do.
Amina now arrives in the room, declaring her love for Elvino. He realises that she is sleepwalking and believes her innocence.
The villagers rejoice and Amina awakens from her sleep.