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8.660042-43 - BELLINI: Sonnambula (La)
English 

Vincenzo Bellini (1801 - 1835)

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 Rossini.

 

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.

 

Synopsis

 

CD 1

 

Act I

Scene 1

 

[1] 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.

 

[2] Cavatina

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.

 

[3] 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 betrothed, Elvino.

 

[4] 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).

 

[5] Recitativo

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 arrives.

 

[6] 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 events.

 

[7] 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.

 

[8] 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.

 

[9] 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.

 

CD2

 

Scene 2

 

[1] Scena

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.

 

[2] 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.

 

[3] 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.

 

Act II

 

Scene 1

 

[4] 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.

 

[5] 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.

 

Scene 2

 

[6] 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).

 

[7] Quartetto

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.

 

[8] 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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