Great moments in opera: La Sonnambula

July 19, 2010

After listening sequentially through ten of Wagner’s operas I was ready for a little something that would clear my musical palette, and so I turned to the Italian bel canto and Bellini’s La Sonnambula (The Sleepwalker).  It was just the thing.  Bellini’s music is about beautiful singing — gloriously beautiful singing — and not much more.

The story of La Sonnambula is briefly told: Amina is engaged to Elvino, but one night she is discovered in the bedroom of another man, and Elvino breaks off the marriage plans.  It is then revealed that Amina is a sleepwalker, and had wandered into the forbidden bedroom on one of her nocturnal walks.  The marriage plans are restored, and they live happily ever after.  That’s it.  God bless Italy.

The music is delightful from start to finish, with long and gorgeous vocal lines that always fall easily on the ear, and plenty of high notes to dazzle the crowd.  I have selected two excerpts, but I could have selected a dozen.  It’s a wonderful opera.

Here is an Act I duet between Amina and Elvino, Prendi l’anel ti dono (Take the ring I give you), in which Elvino proposes to Amina.  English subtitles are included.  The singers are Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez, in a performance given a few years ago at the Metropolitan Opera in New York:

Probably the most famous aria from La Sonnambula is Ah! non credea (Ah! I hadn’t thought), which is Amina’s last “sleepwalking aria”.  As she walks, she sings of her love for Elvino.  This is witnessed by the villagers — it so happens that she is sleepwalking on the roof of one of the village houses — and leads to her exoneration and the happy reinstatement of her engagement.  It is sung here by the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko in a BBC Proms concert from a few years ago.  I must say that I love Netrebko’s voice, and I am not just saying that because she is incredibly beautiful. No, I am not.  English subtitles are included, but one hardly needs them.

It so happens that Quin Finnigan over at Korrektiv has been listening to La Sonnambula too, and you can click over to read his thoughts and hear another performance of Ah! non credea.

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