Music with Ease > 19th Century Italian Opera > La Sonnambula (Bellini)
An Opera by Vincenzo Bellini
"La Sonnambula" (The Sleepwalker) was first produced at the Teatro Careano, Milan, in March 1831. The libretto, by Romani, the foremost Italian librettist of the time, sets forth a rather childish if simple and natural story of lowly life in a Swiss village. The heroine, Amina, is a rustic damsel who walks in her sleep. Rodolfo, the young lord of the village, has just returned from abroad, and Amina, in her sleep, enters his room at the inn. Aminas wedding to Elvino, a wealthy landowner, was just about to be celebrated. But now the jealous Lisa, the pretty hostess of the inn, denounces Amina, and herself gains the temporary regard of Elvino. Rodolfo proclaims Aminas innocence, but nobody believes him until Amina is seen walking in her sleep, this time over a slim bridge above the mill-wheel. Her innocence is thus confirmed, and the conventional happy ending is assured.
Of the music there is not much to say except that the melodies, if somewhat characterless, are graceful and pleasing; some of them full of real emotion, the subject being perfectly suited to Bellinis idyllic and elegiac style. There is undoubted power in the closing scene, and Aminas air, "Oh, recall not," has long been a favourite with singers and listeners. Virtually, the opera is a vocal recital with stage accessories. The public go to hear the prima donna. When the work was first given in London, in 1833, the writer of a notice in The Harmonicon declared that the music was "of the most flimsy kind, and worthless in every sense of the word, whether as relates to art or to the theatre." But the public paid little heed to the critics. They liked Bellinis endless flow of melody, and they made the opera a complete success. In England it was performed in English and in Italian, oftener than any other two or perhaps three operas; while probably no songs, certainly no songs by a foreign composer, were ever sold in such numbers as "All is lost" and "Do not mingle." The part of Amina, it may be added, was selected by Patti and Albani for their first appearance before an English public.