Does a sleepwalking opera sound crazy to you?
It did to me when I first heard about it! La sonnambula, or The Sleepwalker, by Vincenzo Bellini, begins with the celebration of the engagement of Amina and Elvino. Over the course of the opera, Amina wanders into another man's room while she is sleepwalking and falls asleep on his couch. Believing her unfaithful, Elvino breaks the engagement, not believing that she is a sleepwalker. Not until she is walking precariously across the unstable mill bridge asleep does Elvino realize his error, and the two are reunited (...as soon as she wakes up).
This is an opera written in the bel canto style, which means beautiful singing. The accompaniment is simple and allows for the singer to embellish the written melody in any way he/she wants to. The text is usually repetitive and gives the singer room to imbue a different subtext to the same words. It's really freeing, as a singer, to have so much flexibility in your interpretation of an aria!
This aria is sung by Amina while she is crossing the bridge, right at the end of the opera. Asleep, she is mourning the loss of Elvino's love. It's interesting that Amina is actually sleeping while she sings this. It made me wonder how I, as an actress, could show her distress while also conveying her sleeping state. When taken out of context and sung as a stand-alone aria, I don't think it makes sense to sing this in a dream-like way - rather, embrace the sentiment and the words and actually mourn the loss of love.
So how can we relate to this? This seems like such an absurd plotline, but in fact, it's not. Many times in relationships, there is turbulence based on misunderstanding. Elvino doesn't know the whole story, and to be fair, neither does Amina! Amina doesn't know that she sleepwalks, so she can't really correct Elvino's mistake.
Amina is in pain because her fiance broke up with her and it's all over a misunderstanding. I think putting the emotions in a more modern context makes it easier for us to understand and relate to. And that's all that's happening here. Think about how human she is: even in her darkest moment, she looks at the flowers she holds in her hands and distracts herself for a moment with the idea that she could revive them. Then she immediately remembers that she can't revive Elvino's love for her.
I mean, it doesn't get more relatable than that.
Do you like this aria? Have you heard it before? Let me know in the comments!