Broadcast

Metropolitan Opera Broadcast: La Sonnambula 

Radio Broadcast of Saturday, March 29, 1 P.M.

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Mary Zimmerman's Met staging of La Sonnambula, with Juan Diego Flórez (Elvino), Natalie Dessay (Amina), Jeremy Galyon (Alessio), Jennifer Black (Lisa) and Jane Bunnell (Teresa)
© Johan Elbers 2014
The 2013–14 Metropolitan Opera broadcast season is sponsored by 
Toll Brothers, America's luxury home builder®, with generous long-term support from 
The Annenberg Foundation, The Neubauer Family Foundation,
the Vincent A. Stabile Endowment for Broadcast Media,
and through contributions from listeners worldwide.

La Sonnambula  


Music by Vincenzo Bellini
Libretto by Felice Romani
THE CAST   (in order of vocal appearance)
Lisa soprano, RACHELLE DURKIN
Alessio bass, JORDAN BISCH
Amina soprano, DIANA DAMRAU
Teresa mezzo, ELIZABETH BISHOP 
Notary tenor, BERNARD FITCH
Elvino tenor, JAVIER CAMARENA
Rodolfo bass, MICHELE PERTUSI

Conducted by MARCO ARMILIATO

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

Production: Mary Zimmerman
Set designer: Daniel Ostling
Costume designer: Mara Blumenfeld
Lighting designer: T. J. Gerckens
Choreographer: Daniel Pelzig
Chorus master: Donald Palumbo
Musical preparation: Joan Dornemann,
    Robert Morrison, Gareth Morrell,
    Howard Watkins, Carrie-Ann Matheson
Assistant stage directors: Gina Lapinski,
    Jonathon Loy
Stage band conductor: Jeffrey Goldberg
Italian coach: Loretta Di Franco
Prompter: Carrie-Ann Matheson

Production a gift of
    Mr. and Mrs. Paul M. Montrone

Additional funding from the Hermione
    Foundation, Laura Sloate, Trustee;
    The Gilbert S. Kahn and John J. Noffo
    Kahn Endowment Fund; Mr. and Mrs.
    William R. Miller; and the National
    Endowment for the Arts.
THE SCENES     Timings (ET) 
  (La Sonnambula is set in a Swiss village. This production is set in a rehearsal room where singers are preparing a production of La Sonnambula set in a Swiss village. The story, actions and characters are all coincident with those of the rehearsal room.)  
ACT I   1:00–2:23
    Sc. 1 The village square  
    Sc. 2 An inn  
ACT II   2:54–3:58
    Sc. 1 The grounds of Rodolfo's castle  
    Sc. 2 Outside the village church  
 
Host: Margaret Juntwait
Commentator: Ira Siff
Music producer: Jay David Saks
Producers: Mary Jo Heath, Ellen Keel,
    William Berger
Executive producers: Mia Bongiovanni,
    Elena Park

For more information on the broadcasts,
    please visit www.operainfo.org.

Send quiz questions to:
    Metropolitan Opera Quiz
    Metropolitan Opera
    30 Lincoln Center
    New York, NY 10023
    or e-mail metquiz@metopera.org.

This performance is also being broadcast
    live on Metropolitan Opera Radio on
    SiriusXM channel 74.

THE STORY  

ACT I. In a village in the Swiss Alps, early in the nineteenth century, the betrothal of Amina and Elvino is being celebrated by everyone except the local innkeeper, Lisa, a cast-off sweetheart of Elvino's. Lisa is bothered when another suitor of hers, Alessio, leads the villagers in praise of Amina. Amina expresses her gratitude to Teresa, owner of the mill, who brought her up as an orphaned girl, and exults in her happiness. She thanks Alessio for serenading her and greets her fiancé, a well-to-do young farmer, who has just returned from a visit to his mother's grave. As a notary draws up the marriage contract, Elvino gives Amina his mother's engagement ring; to Lisa's continued annoyance, the lovers pour out their rapture. An approaching carriage brings an unexpected visitor, Count Rodolfo, traveling incognito to his castle nearby. Because it is getting late, he decides to stay at the inn, pausing to survey the surrounding countryside, in which he grew up but which he has not seen in years. He compliments the charming bride and, in response to inquiries about what brings him there, explains that he was brought up by the lord of the castle, now dead. About the lord's son, presumed to have disappeared, he says evasively that the heir is alive and will return. As darkness approaches, Teresa speaks of a phantom that has been appearing in the neighborhood; the villagers elaborate, describing for Rodolfo's benefit a ghostly creature that walks by night. Amused by their superstition, Rodolfo says he would like to see the phantom, but the villagers pray he may be spared. Elvino takes exception to the stranger's fond farewell to Amina and quarrels with her, then apologizes, confessing that the very breeze that caresses her arouses his jealousy. Reconciled, they bid each other good night. 

In Rodolfo's room at the inn, he flirts with Lisa but regrets that she has discovered his identity as count of the local castle; he would have preferred to remain incognito. A disturbance outside causes Lisa to hide in the closet, dropping her kerchief, which Rodolfo places on the bed. The French window opens to admit Amina, walking in her sleep. Rodolfo realizes she is the "apparition." Deciding not to wake her, he closes the window, while Lisa - noting Amina's presence and assuming the worst - makes her exit. Touched by Amina's murmurs of fidelity to Elvino, Rodolfo resolves not to compromise her, though he still finds her attractive. She sinks onto the couch as the villagers approach, bent on paying respects to the man they have learned is their count. So as not to be found with Amina, he leaves. As the villagers wonder at discovering a woman on the couch, Elvino's voice is heard: the vengeful Lisa has fetched him. Awakened by the commotion, Amina protests her innocence to the outraged Elvino, who breaks their engagement and tears off her ring. Teresa tries to stop Elvino from making hasty conclusions; finding Lisa's kerchief on the bed, she assumes it is Amina's and ties it around the girl's neck. The villagers side with Elvino, declaring Amina an outcast. 

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The Act II finale of La Sonnambula at the Met
© Beatriz Schiller 2014

ACT II. In a wooded spot en route to the castle, villagers pause to plan how they will ask the count to exonerate Amina, if she is indeed innocent of dallying with him. As they move on, Amina enters, comforted by Teresa, and observes that they are near Elvino's farm. He appears and reviles her, ignoring her protestations of innocence. Even when he hears that the count is on his way, ready to attest to Amina's virtue, Elvino refuses to see his "rival." With Amina about to collapse, however, he begins to soften, wondering why he cannot hate her. In despair Elvino goes back to his farm, while Teresa leads off the swooning Amina.

In the village, Alessio tries in vain to arouse Lisa's interest. Soon others arrive to congratulate her on being Elvino's second choice for his bride. Elvino enters, asks for her hand and suggests they head for the church at once. Rodolfo interrupts to intercede with Elvino on Amina's behalf: by his honor he swears she is innocent. Elvino cannot believe this, but Rodolfo explains to the incredulous villagers that there are people who walk in their sleep, not knowing what they are doing. Teresa appears and asks them all to be quiet, since Amina has fallen into exhausted sleep. Seeing that Lisa intends to marry Elvino, Teresa accuses her of being a hussy: as proof she produces the kerchief, found in Rodolfo's room. Dumbfounded that Lisa too seems unfaithful, Elvino renounces love and turns for advice to the count, who will repeat only that Amina has been wronged. His word is presently borne out by the appearance of Amina, sleepwalking across a narrow footbridge above the mill wheel. Afraid of waking her, all watch in awe as she negotiates the bridge safely. Still asleep, Amina mourns and forgives her lost Elvino, taking the faded bouquet he gave her and bidding it farewell. Unable to bear watching her suffer, Elvino, encouraged by Rodolfo, goes up to the sleeping girl and gives her back her ring. Pronouncing herself utterly happy, she embraces Teresa and suddenly awakens - at first embarrassed, then overjoyed to find that her dream has come true. She declares that heavenly love will come to earth in her union with Elvino. Amid general rejoicing, the couple heads for the church.

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Flórez and Dessay, as Elvino and Amina
© Beth Bergman 2014

THE BACKGROUND  

For his sixth professional opera, Vincenzo Bellini (1801-35) had originally planned to adapt Victor Hugo's play Hernani, but he decided instead on La Sonnambule, a ballet/pantomime by Eugène Scribe and Jean-Pierre Aumer. La Sonnambula was written for presentation in the 1830-31 season at Milan's Teatro Carcano, which began on December 26, with the world premiere of Donizetti's Anna Bolena. Bellini set to work on his opera in January 1831, knowing that Donizetti's first Anna Bolena and Percy, Giuditta Pasta and Giovanni Battista Rubini, were to be the stars of his new work. He finished La Sonnambula in late February, just a few weeks before the world premiere on March 6.

Although Pasta and Maria Malibran - the next great nineteenth-century diva to make Amina one of her signature roles - would probably be classified as mezzo-sopranos today, Bellini's sleepwalking heroine soon became the property of coloratura sopranos such as Jenny Lind, Adelina Patti and Marcella Sembrich, who was Amina when the Metropolitan Opera first presented La Sonnambula, during its inaugural season, on November 14, 1883. Sembrich's performances in the Met premieres of Lucia di Lammermoor, La Traviata, I Puritani, Rigoletto, Don Giovanni, Les Huguenots and Il Barbiere di Siviglia made her the sensation of the musical year in New York. On opening night of La Sonnambula, the twenty-five-year-old Polish coloratura delivered an encore of "Ah! non giunge," an aria that was something of a personal specialty: she also interpolated it into some Met performances of Barbiere.

In 1905, when the Met mounted a new production of La Sonnambula for Sembrich, her Elvino was Enrico Caruso. The company has presented subsequent new stagings of Bellini's opera in 1932, when Tullio Serafin paced Lily Pons and Beniamino Gigli; and in 1963, when Silvio Varviso conducted Joan Sutherland and Nicolai Gedda as Amina and Elvino. The Met's current production, directed by Mary Zimmerman, has its premiere on March 2, with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez as its stars.

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Natalie Dessay as Amina in La Sonnambula at the Met
© Johan Elbers 2014
WHAT TO READ AND HEAR  

John Rosselli's The Life of Bellini (Cambridge) is a good, concise introduction to the composer; Herbert Weinstock's considerably more comprehensive Vincenzo Bellini: His Life and Operas (Knopf) is out of print but worth searching for. In his chapter on Bellini in The New Grove Masters of Italian Opera, Friedrich Lippmann offers a brief but illuminating look at the man and his work. A Kindle edition of Burton D. Fisher's "Opera Journeys Mini-Guide" to La Sonnambula is available from Amazon.

Natalie Dessay's affecting Amina is the centerpiece of Virgin Classics's La Sonnambula, recorded in concert in Lyon and conducted by Evelino Pidò; Francesco Meli is the sensitive Elvino. Juan Diego Flórez's sympathetic Elvino woos Cecilia Bartoli's highly individual Amina in Decca's Sonnambula recording. Maria Callas's luminous Amina is best sampled in the live 1955 recording from La Scala, conducted by Leonard Bernstein (EMI), with Cesare Valletti its ideal Elvino; Callas's studio recording (EMI), led by Antonino Votto and costarring Nicola Monti as Elvino, is admirable but considerably less exciting. Monti also sings Elvino on Joan Sutherland's first studio recording of the opera (Decca), which shows the soprano in brilliant form under Richard Bonynge's fastidious supervision. 

On DVD, VAI offers Anna Moffo's meltingly lovely Amina in Mario Lanfranchi's 1956 film of La Sonnambula, conducted by Bruno Bartoletti. Federico Tiezzi's handsome yet unconventional staging of the opera, which eschews Swiss-postcard prettiness and moves the action to the late nineteenth-century, was filmed at the 2004 Florence May Festival. Bellini specialists Eva Mei and José Bros are its Amina and Elvino, under the musical direction of Daniel Oren. The Met's current staging, by Mary Zimmerman, is available on DVD (Decca), with Evelino Pido leading Juan Diego Flórez and Natalie Dessay as Elvino and Amina. spacer 

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Current Issue: December 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 6