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ClassicsOnline Home » BELLINI: Sonnambula (La)
Vincenzo Bellini (1801 - 1835)
La Sonnambula / The Sleepwalker
Melodrama in Two Acts
Libretto by Felice Romani
Vincenzo Bellini was born in Catania in 1801, the son and
grandson of musicians, taught first by his father and then by his grandfather
and writing at first a quantity of church music, his first known composition a
setting of Gallus cantavit (The cock crew), composed at the age of six.
To this he added secular arias and ariettas, for the entertainment of local
notables. In 1819 he entered Naples Conservatory and, on the completion of his
studies, was able to offer a public performance, in accordance with
Conservatory custom, of his opera Adelson e Salvini. The success of
this, its plot set in Ireland, where the Italian painter Salvini falls in love with
Nelly, betrothed to Lord Adelson, but eventually comes to his senses, after his
failure, with the villain Struley, to abduct Nelly, led to a commission from
the Teatro S Carlo and Bianca e Gernando, a rescue opera.
Bellini's third opera, II pirata, staged at La
Scala, Milan, in 1827, was the true foundation of his success. Other operas for
Milan followed, with the same librettist, Felice Romani, La straniera
and Norma for La Scala and La sonnambula for the Teatro Carcano. Zaira
was first staged in Parma and I Capuleti e i Montecchi at La Fenice in Venice,
where, in 1833, Beatrice di Tenda proved less successful. There followed
a commission to assist in the preparation of three of his operas for London,
where La Sonnambula was also revived at Drury Lane, with Maria Malibran. By
August Bellini was in Paris, where he enjoyed the friendship of Rossini, mixing
in a social circle that included Chopin and the poet Heinrich Heine. For Paris
he wrote I puritani, which had its first performance at the Theatre-Italien
in January 1835. The world seemed to promise much, with appointment as a
Chevalier of the Legion d'honneur and the possibility of further commissions
for the Paris Opera. Here, indeed, it seemed that he would prove the true
successor to Rossini, who had now retired from operatic composition. In late August,
however, he fell ill, and died on 23rd September, his death mourned with a
Requiem at Les Invalides attended by the composers Paer, Cherubini, Carafa and
As a man Bellini had exercised considerable charm,
tempered only by the occasional necessary, and defensive anxieties about
competition from Donizetti, whom he suspected Rossini of favouring. His music
reflects this charm in its lyrical qualities, closely married to the texts set
and largely avoiding the earlier excesses of vocal display for its own sake. At
Naples Conservatory his teacher Zingarelli had tried to prevent his students
following the example of Rossini, and something of this influence remained with
Bellini. Verdi praised Bellini's extended melodies, suggesting that, while he
might be weak in harmony and orchestration, he was at the same time rich in
feeling and in a melancholy all his own. Melancholy, however, was by no means
everything. Bellini was capable of fire and intensity and achieved his greatest
successes in collaboration with Felice Romani, always aware of the importance
of words, and insistent on rewriting of parts of a libretto that seemed to him
not right, as in the case of the final cabaletta in La sonnambula,
rewritten eight times by an increasingly exasperated Romani.
Bellini wrote La sonnambula for the Teatro Carcano in Milan,
to be performed in the 1830 - 1831 season that had also included, in December,
Donizetti's Anna Bolena. The singers who had appeared in Donizetti's
opera were to appear in the new work by Bellini, with the soprano Giuditta
Pasta as Amina and, as Elvino, Giovanni Battista Rubini, both of whom exercised
influence on Bellini's vocal writing. Their particular abilities here allowed
the use of a particularly high tenor register and a soprano line that is at
times stratospheric in its original keys. The first intention had been to
collaborate with Felice Romani on a version of Victor Hugo's play Hernani,
a subject later tackled by Verdi. The possibilities of official censorship turned
Bellini's choice instead to the subject of La sonnambula, based on a
ballet-pantomime by Eugene Scribe and Jean-Pierre Aumer, La somnambule,
ou L'arrivee d'un nouveau seigneur (The Sleepwalker, or The Arrival of a
New Lord). The opera was an immediate success, finding its way abroad to London
and to Paris, with the same principal singers, in the same year, and being
taken into the repertoire of other opera-houses, in Italy and elsewhere.
Amina, an orphan brought up by Teresa, the owner of the
mill, celebrates her betrothal to the rich young farmer Elvino. Lisa, owner of
the village inn, is angry, since she too loves Elvino. A newcomer arrives, in
fact Count Rodolpho, although his identity is not yet known, and flirts with
Amina, to Elvino's annoyance. Teresa warns the villagers to go home, before the
ghost that haunts the castle appears. The Count goes into the inn, the others
disperse, and Amina satisfies Elvino's anxieties. In the inn Lisa, who has
recognised the Count, chats to him in his room. They hear a noise, and she
hurries away, leaving her scarf behind. Amina is walking in her sleep and comes
into the Count's room, talking of her love for Elvino and lying down to sleep
on the sofa. Lisa sees an opportunity to discredit her rival and fetches
Elvino. Amina wakes and is distressed at the situation she finds herself in,
the object of Elvino's anger. She finds sympathy only from Teresa, who puts the
scarf she has found there round Amina's shoulders. In the second act, in a
valley near the castle, the villagers try to soften Elvino's heart, but he
declares his betrothal at an end, taking back the ring he has given Amina. In a
final scene near the mill, Lisa is now well established in Elvino's favour and
ready to marry him at once. The Count tells Elvino that Amina was walking in
her sleep, but is not believed. Teresa tells the people to make less noise,
since Amina is asleep. She produces Lisa's scarf, now implicating Lisa in some
sort of duplicity. Final proof that convinces Elvino is only found when Amina
emerges from the mill, walking in her sleep, making her way over the
dilapidated bridge over the mill-stream. Once she has crossed in safety, it is
Elvino who wakes her, returning to her the ring of their betrothal.
 Coro d'lntroduzione
The scene is set in a Swiss village. Teresa's mill is
seen in the background, with the mill-stream. The sounds of celebration are
heard, with instruments echoing from the distance and villagers shouting 'Viva
Amina!', happy at her betrothal.
Lisa comes out of the inn, complaining that this is no
happy day for her. While all is joy and merriment (Tutto e gioia, tutto e
festa), she suffers. She is interrupted by the appearance of fellow-villagers,
with their instruments and flowers. She resumes her song.
 Stretta dell'lntroduzione - Coro
Lisa is further troubled, amid the celebrations, by the
unwelcome attentions of the villager Alessio, who accuses her of avoiding him.
She, however, has no time for him, angry that her rival Amina has captured the
heart of Elvino. The villagers continue to sing the praises of Amina and her
 Recitativo e Cavatina
Amina joins the villagers, addressing her dear companions
(Care compagne) and thanking them for their words. She is grateful above all to
her mother, the woman who adopted her as an orphan (A te, diletta tenera
madre). The people wish her happiness and she embraces Teresa, takes her
hand and puts it over her heart (Sovra il sen la man mi posa).
Alessio congratulates her, he more than anyone, (lo
pill di tutti), for he has written the song for her and assembled the
musicians. She thanks him, grateful for his kindness (E grata a'tuoi favori),
hoping that he too will soon be happy with Lisa. Lisa demurs and Teresa
condemns her hypocrisy, when she talks of love ending in bitterness. The notary
 Recitativo e Duetto
The notary is followed by Elvino, delayed by a visit to
his mother's grave to seek a blessing on his wife. Now his friends must witness
the betrothal contract, which the notary is preparing Elvino offers her, as
gifts to his future bride, his farms and possessions, and she, in return, offers
her heart. As Teresa and the witnesses sign the contract, Elvino gives Amina a
ring (Prendi: l'anel ti dono) and all, except Lisa, are happy at these
 Recitativo e Cavatina
Elvino tells Amina that the next morning they will be
married (Domani, appena aggiorni), but the sound of an approaching horse
is heard and a stranger appears. Count Rodolpho, accompanied by two servants,
complains now of the tiring journey (Come noises e lungo il cammin).
Lisa tells him that he is still three miles away from the castle and should
spend the night in the village inn, which he claims he already knows (Quello?
Ah! lo conosco), with the mill, the stream, the woods and the nearby farm.
He remembers earlier days he had spent here, days now gone beyond recall. The
villagers tell him of the betrothal and he finds Amina lovely and attractive (E
gentil, leggiadra molto), remembering his own love of old. The villagers
remark on this gallantry, less acceptable to Lisa and, above all, to Elvino.
 Recitativo e Coro
In answer to Elvino's question, the Count explains that
he had been there before with the lord of the castle. Teresa recalls how the
old lord, dead four years ago, once had a son, but he had vanished. The Count
tells her that the son is still alive and promises that one day they shall all
see him. The sound of a bagpipe is heard, calling the flocks in, and Teresa
warns the villagers that night is drawing in, the time, they all explain, when
the ghost appears, a figure in white, with long hair and burning eyes.
 Recitativo e Duetto
The Count is sceptical but tells them that the time will
come when such phantoms will no longer be seen, but now he will rest, and he
goes with Lisa into the inn, after bidding Amina farewell (Addio, gentil
fanciulla). Amina and Elvino are now left alone, he about to leave her without
saying goodbye (Elvino! E me tu lasci). He is annoyed at the attention
she has received from the stranger, but begs her pardon, explaining that he is
jealous even of the breeze that stirs her hair (Son geloso del
zefiro amante). They are reconciled, banishing any doubts (Mai pili
dubbi!), and promising to think and dream of each other until the morning.
The scene is a room in the inn, with a window at the
back, a door at one side and on the other a closet, with a small table and a sofa.
The Count is alone and is later joined by Lisa. At first he expresses to
himself his pleasure at staying in the village, and at the two girls, Amina and
Lisa, his pretty inn-keeper (Mia bella albergatrice). Lisa, to his
annoyance, has recognised him as the Count and tells him that the villagers are
gathering to pay him proper respects. He goes on to joke with Lisa, praising
her beauty. A sound is heard and she runs into the other room, dropping her
scarf. The Count throws it onto the sofa.
 Recitativa e Duetta, Cora, Quintetta
Amina appears, entering the room slowly, sleepwalking'
The Count now understands the nature of the ghost that haunts the village (Saria
questo il notturno fantasma?). Amina calls, in her sleep, on Elvino,
worried in her dreams by his jealousy and assuring him of her love. The Count
goes to shut the window, while Lisa, from the closet, observes what is
happening and realises the chance she now has of discrediting her rival,
slipping away unseen. Amina dreams of her wedding and her beloved Elvino,
tempting the Count's resistance. She raises her hand and swears faithfulness to
her husband. The Count is about to go, but hearing people approach, leaves
through the window, which he shuts. Amina lies on the sofa, still sleeping.
The villagers approach and, seeing the door of the room
open, go in. They see a figure on the sofa and realise that this is not the
Count but a woman.
Now Teresa, Elvino and Lisa come in, he refusing to
believe what Lisa has told him and then horrified to see Amina lying there. She
wakes, to be immediately rejected by Elvino, turning for comfort to her mother.
She is innocent in thought and word, as she assures him (D'un pensiero e d'un
accento rea non sono), but no-one will believe her, except Teresa, who picks up
Lisa's scarf and puts it round Amina's throat, thinking it is hers.
 Stretta del Finale Prima
Elvino tells her there will be no wedding (Non piu
nozze) and she is distressed at Elvino's distrust of her, declaring her
innocence (lo rea non sono), while he reproaches her faithless heart (Ingrato
core!). As the others go, Amina falls into the arms of Teresa.
 Coro d'lntroduzione
The scene is a wood. Some villagers come in, heading for
the castle, where they hope to persuade the Count to defend Amina's reputation,
summoning up their courage to speak to him.
 Scena ed Aria
Amina and Teresa come onto the scene, as the others go,
intent on the same purpose, although Amina is affected by the place, so near to
Elvino's farm. He appears and he and Amina speak together, Elvino still
adamant, she swearing her innocence. Voices are heard praising the Count, who
is coming to tell Elvino of Amina's innocence. Elvino is still angry and takes
from Amina the ring he had given her, leaving in despair, while Teresa and
Amina go off in another direction.
 Scena ed Aria
Back in the village Alessio protests his love for Lisa,
who still rejects him. He hopes to enlist the Count's aid in his cause, but now
voices are heard welcoming Lisa as Elvino's bride, instead of Amina, to Lisa's
delight, expressed in her gratitude for these good wishes (De' lieti auguri
a voi son grata).
In a scene with Lisa Elvino assures her of his love,
seeking her pardon for deserting her. The Count arrives in the nick of time, as
Alessio observes, willing to guarantee Amina's honesty. He goes on to explain
about the mysteries of sleepwalking. Elvino is unwilling to believe what he is
told, and the villagers too find this incredible. Teresa now intervenes, with Lisa's
scarf, found in the Count's bedroom. The revelation of Lisa's actions causes
Elvino to let her hand go.
 scena ed Aria Finale
The Count repeats his assurance of Amina's innocence,
while Elvino seeks proof. At this moment Amina is seen, stepping from the mill
window, in her sleep. She walks across the bridge over the mill-stream, in
danger of her life, while they all watch her spellbound and terrified, Elvino
held back from rushing to her by the Count. She walks along a rotten beam by the
side of the water-wheel, still talking of Elvino, the husband she fears she has
lost (Oh! Se una volta sola rividerlo io potessi), wishing
that she might see him again once more. She kneels, praying for Elvino's
happiness. She looks at her hand, as if searching for the ring that Elvino gave
her (L'anello mio... l'anello). Taking flowers from her breast, withered
after one day, she wonders that, like Elvino's love, they have faded so soon (Ah!
non credea mirarti si presto estinto). Elvino approaches her and puts the
ring back on her finger. Amina asks her mother to embrace her, and the Count
now signals to Teresa to approach and enbrace her, while Elvino is prostrate at
her feet. The outburst of the villagers (Viva Amina!) wakes her and she asks
where she is (Ove son io?). Elvino assures her that she is awake, not
dreaming. In final rejoicing Amina finds that human thought cannot imagine her
happiness (Ah non giunge uman pensiero al contento ond'io son piena),
happiness in which all now join.
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BELLINI: Sonnambula (La)