The Story of Bellini's Opera "La Sonnambula"

Vincenzo Bellini's 'La Sonnambula' in London
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Vincenzo Bellini 2 act opera, "La Sonnambula" (The Sleeper) premiered on March 6, 1831, at Teatro Carcano in Milan, Italy. The story takes place in a picturesque, pastoral village in Switzerland.


Wedding preparations are taking place for Amina and Elvino. Everyone in the town is thrilled for the upcoming festivities and couldn't be happier for Amina... that is, everyone but Lisa, the innkeeper. Lisa is bitterly jealous because she was once engaged to Elvino. Alessio is quite smitten with Lisa, but when he tries to speak with her, she quickly turns him away. Moments later, Amina arrives in the town square and thanks to everyone for the love and help, especially her foster-mother, Teresa, who raised Amina after she was orphaned at a young age. She thanks Alessio for writing her wedding music, then wishes him luck in his courtship of Lisa. Elvino finally arrives, after having stopped at his mother's grave where he sought and prayed for her blessing. From his pocket, he takes out a beautiful ring that once belonged to his mother and places it on Amina's finger.

As the wedding preparations come to a close, a stranger arrives at the inn asking for directions to the castle. Lisa, fearing that it will be dark before the stranger can reach his destination, recommends that he stay there until morning. He agrees, then asks about the festivities. When he spots Amina, he is immediately reminded of a girl he once loved long ago and tells Lisa that Amina resembles her. Teresa joins in on their conversation since the stranger seems vaguely familiar to her and several other villagers. He confesses that he once stayed at the castle years before until the count died. Teresa tells the stranger that the count had a son who vanished, and the stranger assures her that the count's son is very much alive and well.

As the night falls, the villagers warn the stranger to go indoors as to avoid a chance encounter with the spirit that haunts the town after dark. Laughing, he tells them not to worry. He doesn't believe in superstitions and promises to rid them of their ghost. Elvino has been growing increasingly jealous of the stranger's bravery and admiration of his fiancé. Even the wind caressing her skin makes him jealous! Amina reproaches him and he apologizes.

In the inn, Lisa tells the stranger that he has been recognized as the count's lost son, Rodolfo. She warns him that the villagers are preparing a welcome party for him the next day. She pays him her respects and the two begin to flirt and carry on in casual conversation. Suddenly, a noise is heard outside the door and Lisa quickly hides, dropping a handkerchief behind. Amina, sleepwalking, enters the room, and Rodolfo concludes that she is the town's ghost. Amina, still asleep, confesses her love to him. Rodolfo finds it hard to not take advantage of the situation but decides that her love for Elvino is too innocent and pure. He lays her down on the couch and exits. The villages approach him to welcome him. Lisa, full of jealousy, believes Rodolfo, who was just flirting with her earlier, is Amina's lover. She points out that Amina is asleep on his couch. Elvino is consumed with rage and calls off the wedding. At first, the villager's are saddened by her seemed betrayal, but they too, quickly turn to anger. Only Teresa believes Amina to be innocent.


The following morning, the villagers trek through the forest to meet with the count and find out whether or not Amina is innocent. Amina and Teresa are also making their way to meet with him. Despite her continued efforts to convince Elvino that she has remained faithful to him, he continues to doubt her - even going so far as to demanding she returns his mother's ring. When a messenger from the castle meets with the traveling party, he pulls out a letter from Count Rodolfo that Amina is innocent. Elvino still does not believe.

Back in the village, Elvino foolishly decides to marry Lisa instead. As they enter the church, the villagers in attendance begin stirring in commotion at the arrival of Rodolfo. Rodolfo professes yet again that Amina is innocent. He tells everyone that she is a sleepwalker, but they don't believe him. Teresa shows up asking for silence, hoping that the loud noises do not wake the grief-stricken Amina, who has finally fallen asleep. When she realizes what is happening, she confronts Lisa. Angrily, Elvino replies that his new wife was never found in the room of another man. Teresa produces the handkerchief that Lisa dropped in Rodolfo's room. Aghast, Elvino withdraws from Lisa, but still, demands proof of Amina's innocence. Just then, screams are heard outside. When everyone rushes to see what is wrong, they see Amina sleepwalking across the rickety old mill bridge, which is situated dangerously high. Rodolfo orders everyone to keep quiet, for waking her could frighten her and cause her to fall her death. Amina, talking in her sleep, acts out her love of Elvino and the devastation she felt when he rejected her. Elvino, full of remorse, climbs to the other side of the bridge and wakes her once she reaches safety. When she comes to, she finds herself in the arms of the man she loves. Everyone below rejoices.