Jenny Lind in La Sonnambula

Italian opera has dominated the art form since its invention in the 1600s reaching dizzying heights of popularity with works by native Italian composers such as Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, and of course ‘The Swan of Catania’: Vincenzo Bellini

Some of the great composers of the day raved about the music flowing from the pen of the young Bellini. Verdi had praised his ‘long, long, long melodies…’. Liszt, Chopin and Wagner were spellbound by his musical skill. And on the night of the premiere the great Russian composer, Mikhail Glinka wrote: ‘the singers themselves wept and carried the audience along with them’.

Bellini

How could an opera about sleepwalking be such a hit? Here are three possible answers:

1. Bellini already had 6 successful operas under his belt before he started work on La Sonnambula, so he had become a skilled composer in the art of opera with a string of successes including Il pirata (The Pirate) and La straniera (The Foreign Woman).

2.The master of the ‘Bel canto’ style – literally ‘beautiful singing’ – La Sonnambula shows off Bellini’s skill perfectly with the mellifluous long-flowing melodic lines for which he became famous. 

On the side of Bellini’s tomb is an inscription from Amina’s last aria in La sonnambula: ‘Ah! non credea mirarti Sì presto estinto, o fiore (“I did not believe you would fade so soon, oh flower’.

3. In 1831 there was a fascinating amongst the public any works which explored the theme of sleepwalking. So when Bellini discovers La somnambule, ou L’arrivée d’un nouveau seigneur, a 1827 scenario for a ballet-pantomime by Eugène Scribe, he knew he was about to catch the crest of a wave of popular fashion. And sure enough, La Sonnambula was an immediate hit.

Sleepwalker on the Roof

4. For the Opera’s libretto Bellini turned to his renowned collaborator Felice Romani -considered the finest Italian librettist of his day. Romani was an ideal match for Bellini, who said: ‘Give me good verses and I will give you good music’ – and he found them in Romani.

Felice Romani

The story revolves around a love triangle in which one of the lovers blots her copybook by being found in the wrong man’s bed! Only when it is discovered that she is a sleepwalker is her innocence eventually believed… 

Did you know…?

Some of the music in La Sonnambula was actually written for a completely different opera. At the beginning of 1831 Bellini had a pressing deadline for an opera for Theatro Carcano in Milan which he had planned to be an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s controversial play, Hernani. However, its political subject matter was fraught with problems – there had even been a riot at its premiere. 

So by the end of January 1831, Bellini eventually wrote: ‘I am no longer composing Ernani because the subject would have had to undergo modifications at the hands of the police.’ Instead he turned his attention to La sonnambula but reworking some of the music from Ernani into the score before its premiere performance in Milan on 6 March 1831.

In true Bath Opera style, this production is a little bit different. This updated and witty realisation of the story moves the action to a modern-day retirement home which gives lots of scope for comic antics, as misunderstandings, mistaken identities and confusion reign in the best tradition of farce.

Join Bath Opera for a feast of beautiful melodies, vocal fireworks and a hilarious plot with this exciting production which we know you will love…

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