La sonnambula, Opera by V. Bellini
With a pastoral setting and a number of comedic and dramatic twists, La sonnambula is one of the lasting hit operas by Vincenzo Bellini. It had its inaugural performance on 6 March 1831 at Teatro Carcano in Milan, where it was very well received. The music in classic bel canto fashion caresses the ear, and the leading lady’s parts for soprano sfogato impress with their range and depth. While Bellini exploited the popularity of stage works based on somnambulism (or sleepwalking) at the time, it would be unfair to reduce La sonnambula to a mere instance of crowd-pleasing. The musical and narrative qualities of the work are undeniable and explain its long reign on the international stage. This season, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in Rome invites you to take a stroll with the sleepwalker!
The origins of La sonnambula lie with Eugène Scribe and his ballet-pantomime scenario La somnambule, ou L'arrivée d'un nouveau seigneur. It was choreographed by Jean-Pierre Aumer in 1827 and found instant success, inspiring Bellini and his librettist Felice Romani to adapt it into an opera semiseria. The choice to make the title role of Amina a soprano sfogato added to the seemingly supernatural quality of the character. The term describes a contralto who is able to extend her upper range to nearly coloratura heights, a formidable task. Modern productions usually cast the lead as a classic soprano and make adjustments in the lower registers, if needed.
La sonnambula takes us to a Swiss village at an indeterminate time. Amina and Elvino are to celebrate their betrothal in a big procession, and everyone is happy for them. Lisa, the innkeeper, is the sole exception, having herself been a candidate for Elvino’s hand in marriage, only to be rejected in favour of Amina. When a handsome stranger by the name of Rodolfo suddenly appears in the village and shows unexpected familiarity with its people and surroundings, Lisa and the rest of the people are intrigued. Amina’s first episode of sleepwalking will turn the festive plans upside down and set events into motion that will reveal Rodolfo’s true identity. At Teatro Costanzi, all mysteries will be revealed.