Opera Profile: Bellini’s ‘La Sonnambula’ (Watch)

By David Salazar

Bellini’s penultimate opera “La Sonnambula,” which premiered on March 6, 1831, often gets a bad wrap due to its plot.

But no one can deny the magical qualities of the music. This is Bellini at his most melodic. The work has been a favorite of numerous divas of the bel canto repertoire, including Maria Callas, who championed the opera extensively.

Short Plot Summary

Elvino and Amina are to get married. The villagers rejoice though Lisa, who runs the inn, is upset. Alessio tries to court her, but she rejects him. Amina arrives and thanks everyone for the wishes, and especially Alessio for writing the wedding song and organizing the celebrations.

A stranger arrives, asking about the way to the castle. He expresses familiarity with the village and especially with Amina. He is warned of a mysterious ghost that roams the village at night. He is doubtful of the superstition. Meanwhile, Elvino is jealous of the stranger’s treatment of Amina.

Lisa seeks out the stranger and reveals that he is Rodolfo, the son of the Count. They start flirting but are interrupted by an approaching person. She drops her handkerchief, which the Count picks up. The phantom appears and is revealed to be Amina, who is sleepwalking. Rodolfo prepares to take advantage of her but decides against it. Lisa enters with the villagers and points out that she is sleeping in Rodolfo’s bed. Elvino rejects her and breaks off the engagement.

Elvino declares that he will marry Lisa. Rodolfo explains that Amina is innocent and explains the phenomenon of sleepwalking. Teresa, Amina’s mother confronts Lisa about her infidelity and produces the handkerchief she dropped. Suddenly Amina appears sleepwalking on a rooftop to everyone’s wonder. Elvino and her reconcile and all rejoice.

Famous Musical Numbers

There is no passage more famous in this work than Amina’s final set of arias, “Ah non Credea Mirarti” and “Ah! Non giunge.” The former is a Bellini melody at its most purely beautiful, carefully sculpted and expanding throughout. The latter is full of vocal fireworks for the leading lady and caps the opera.

Watch and Listen

Here is a performance of the full work from Caligari starring Eglise Gutierrez as Amina.


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