Thoughts: La Sonnambula

by Jane

Or: Musings on an opera, from someone going for the first time.

La Sonnambula

For my first foray into the world of opera, I and a group of friends made our way to La Sonnambula by State Opera South Australia.  I mainly enjoyed the evening.  The design was gorgeous, the singing outstanding, the event fancy, but I came away feeling no connection to the (near non-existent) plot.

Designer Richard Roberts uses a wooden box set to create a simple canvas for all locations to be suggested though the use of set pieces and lighting.  The three wooden walls are made of separate slats, moved to create entry/exit points or to represent tree trunks in the forest scene, before the back wall is entirely removed and replaced with a turning mill in the second act to great effect.  Built upon the near-constantly revolving stage is a wooden platform, sloping down towards one corner, which helps to add a dimension of movement to this otherwise very static piece.

Roberts’ simple set creates a winsome frame for the performance, with scope and setting further added by Matt Scott’s lighting.  Scott subtly uses the lights to indicate passage of time – as the warm yellow of sunset melts away into the blues of dusk – and place – the forest of act two sees the stage awash in green.  Light focus is also used to heighten the tension of the romantic escapades.

La Sonnabula was written by Vincenzo Bellini in the bel canto tradition, which means “beautiful singing” (thank you, program).  The music is beautiful, with particular note going to the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s string section, superbly lush under the refined singing of the cast.  Emma Matthews in the titular role is stunning, her high soprano voice playing over the music with ease as she seems to not pause for breath.

But, when you combine such beautiful music to what is really a terribly stupid plot, the piece fails to have any emotional resonance.  With such a strong commitment to the beauty of the music, even at times where there should be tension or stress between characters, Bellini never lets go of an elegance or a refinement which allows all emotions to skim along the opera at the same level.

Sitting in the gods, we had a good angle to take in both the staging and the surtitles without neck cramming.  I was shocked at how many syllables Italian seems to have.  Or, perhaps more accurately, how many syllables opera can add to a simple sentence.  It was some ways confusing: we are always reading a step or two in front of the action, and it was sometimes hard to differentiate which character was singing which line.

I spent much of the production surprised as to why the performers weren’t dancing.  When I sit in the Festival Theatre, it’s for the ballet more often than not, and with ballet being one of my great loves, I very strongly associate orchestras with the ballet.  I don’t think I’ll be forsaking my love of ballet (or theatre) for the opera anytime soon, but if the opportunity came up to go again I wouldn’t say no.

And now: A new adaptation!  La Sonnabula Abridged (and in English) 

The Players:

Amina – An orphan, and therefore the prettiest girl in the village. Loves Elvino.

Elvino – The wealthy catch of the village.  Loves Amina. 

Count Rodolfo – A count. Loves women.

Lisa – An innkeeper.  She wears red, so you know she’s a hussy.  Loves Elvino.

Teresa – Amina’s adoptive mother.

Alessio – A bit part.  Loves Lisa.

Notary – Old man, comic relief.

The Villagers – Slightly off their collective rocker.

Act One

Scene One: A pretty Swiss-Alpine hamlet.

Lisa: Nobody likes me, everybody hates me.  Why doesn’t Elvino love me like I love him?

Alessio: I love you Lisa.

Lisa: You’re boring.  Go away.

Villagers: Yay!  Amina’s getting married to Elvino!  She’s our favourite!

Amina enters.

Amina: Thanks villagers!  You rock!  I love you adoptive mother, because I’m an orphan.  Thanks for the music Alessio, sorry you got such a raw deal with Lisa.

Elvino enters.

Elvino: Sorry I’m late!  I asked my dead mother’s grave if we can marry, and she said go for it!

Villagers: Yay!

Notary: Elvino, what do you promise to give to Amina?

Elvino: My house, my farm, my money: everything! (Possibly not my trust.) Oh, and also, my dead mother’s ring.

Notary: And Amina?

Amina: Just my heart!

Villagers: Yay!

Notary: No kissing before you get married!

Villagers: Is that horseshoes we hear?

Count Rodolfo enters, unfortunately without a horse.

Count: Bring me wine!  Which way to the castle?

Lisa: Three miles that way, you won’t make it before nightfall.  Stay in my inn.

Count: Wait, where am I?  I remember this place!  I once stayed in that castle with the count.

Teresa: The count is dead.

Count: (Sad face.)

Teresa: His son has vanished.

Count: Now I can’t tell you how I know this, but he is alive and he will return.

Villagers: Yay!

Count:  Gasp, a bride, I must have her for myself!

Amina: There is nothing I like more on the eve of my wedding than to flirt with a stranger.

Lisa: Seriously?  She gets him, too?

Elvino: Hands off!

Count: Yo mama so stupid it takes her two hours to watch 60 Minutes.

Elvino: Yo mama so stupid she lost her shadow.

Amina: Boys! Seriously.

Villagers: It’s getting dark.  Watch out for the Phantom!

Count: Whatevs, I don’t believe in phantoms.

Everyone leaves, except Amina and Elvino.

Elvino: Okay, night.

Amina: Is that it?!

Elvino: It’s not my fault you were flirting with that stranger!

Amina: It’s not my fault I’m so pretty: I’m an orphan!

Elvino: Okay, I forgive you.  Goodnight.

Amina: Goodnight.

Elvino: You leave first.

Amina: No, you leave first.

Elvino: No, you leave first.

Amina: No, you leave first.

Elvino: No, you leave first.

Amina: Okay, on the count of three.  One, two, three.

Elvino: You didn’t leave!

Amina: Well, you didn’t leave either!  On the count of three.  One, two, three.

Scene one point five (off stage) 

Villagers: Ohmigosh, that stranger is totally the count’s son!  We should go flash-mob his room where he is probably asleep from a whole day of travelling; he will like us if we do that!


Scene two: Count Rodolfo’s room at the inn.

Count: This is a nice room.

Lisa: Game’s up Count.  Yeah, that’s right, I know you’re a count.

Count: You know what Counts are good at?  Kissing pretty girls.

Lisa: Only if you grope me a bit first!

They kiss.  He gets caught in her hair ribbon.  The Count puts the ribbon on his bed, rather than giving it back.

Lisa: Gasp! A noise!

Runs away.

Count: Gasp!  The Phantom!

Amina enters through the window, talking in her sleep. 

Amina: I love you Elvino!  Hug me, Elvino!

Count: Should I wake her up?  No, I should totally be Elvino and hug her!  (He does.)

Lisa sticks her head in.

Lisa: Gasp! Cad.


Count: Wait, no, bad count!  I’ll let her sleep in my bed.  Oh, look at the time, time for my midnight run!

The count runs out the window.  The villagers enter.

 Villagers: Look, he’s asleep!  Wait a minute… that’s not the shape of a man!  That’s the shape of a pretty female orphan!  Ohmigosh Amina!  How could you?!

Lisa enters with Elvino.

 Lisa: Look!  I told you so!

Elvino: Hussy!

Teresa: Gasp!

Villagers: Dump her!  We never liked her anyway!

Amina: (Waking) Where am I, what’s going on?

Elvino: I hate you Amina.

Amina: But I love you!

Elvino: You cheated on me.  You promised me your heart.  Your heart!

Amina: My heart is yours!

Villagers: Down with the hussy!

Teresa: If Amina says she is innocent, I believe her.  What’s this?  Lisa’s hair ribbon on the Count’s bed?  I should save this for later….

Elvino: We’re over!

Lisa: Yay!

Villagers: Yay!



Act Two

Scene One: A forest.

Amina and Teresa are going to find the count.

Amina: I’m so sad.

Teresa: The Count will attest your innocence.

They come across the villagers. 

Villagers: It’s okay Amina, you’re our favourite, we know you’re telling the truth, we’re going to find the Count and ask him.

Elvino enters.

 Elvino: I’m so sad.

Villagers: Cad!

Amina: I love you Elvino.

Elvino: I hate you.

Amina: But I love you.

Elvino: Well then, I guess it’s too bad that I hate you.  PS I want my ring back.  (He grabs back the ring.)

Villagers: Cad!  We’ll stab you with our umbrellas!

Amina: I’m so sad.

Scene two: near the mill, for dramatic effect.

Alessio: I love you Lisa!

Lisa: You’re boring.  Go away.

Villagers: Yay!  Lisa’s getting married to Elvino!  She’s our favourite!

Lisa: Good things these wedding clothes just happen to be lying around in my size.

Elvino: Let’s go to the church right now.

Lisa: Okay!

Villagers: Yay!

The Count enters.

Count: I am here to save the day!  Amina is innocent!  She’s a sleepwalker!

Villagers: Gasp!

Count: Look at this book!

Villagers: Yay, Amina is innocent!  We never doubted her!

Elvino: A book?  I don’t believe in books!  Or science!  I eat your book. (He does) Let’s go, Lisa.

Teresa enters.

Teresa:   Will you keep it down, Amina is finally asleep!  Gasp, what’s happening?

Lisa: We’re getting married!  Out of my way!

Teresa: Oh yeah?  How do you explain this ribbon I found in the Count’s bed and conveniently didn’t tell anyone about until right this moment?

Villagers: Gasp!  Hussy!

Lisa: Um… Count?

Count:  Let’s not talk about me, Amina is innocent!

Elvino: You too, Lisa?  All women are exactly the same!  Hussys!

Count: But back to the topic of Amina!

Elvino: I need proof!  And not any of this book proof, but true truthiness proof!

Villagers: Gasp!  Is that Amina sleepwalking?

Amina sleepwalks through the mill, in some-sort of giant game of mini-golf.

Count: Don’t wake her or she’ll die!

Amina: I love you Elvino.  Even if you don’t marry me, I hope you are as happy as I am sad.  Because I am really really sad.  Truly, just so so sad.  But I still love you.

Villagers: Gasp!

Teresa: Gasp!

Elvino: Gasp!

Lisa: Seriously?

Count: Told you so.

Amina: Oh no, Elvino!  What’s happening?  You’re turning into a prune!  You’re dying and withering away, because you don’t love me.  Men who dump orphans get what’s coming to them.

Teresa: My baby! (Runs to hug her.)

Elvino: I love you Amina!  Have my ring!  (Runs to hug her.)

Wakes up in the arms of Teresa and Elvino.

Amina: No!  Don’t make me wake up.

Elvino:  I know now what I didn’t know then.  Let’s get married right now.

Amina: Okay!

Villagers: Yay!

Scene three: A church.

Amina: I love you.

Elvino: I love you.

Amina: I love you.

Elvino: I love you.

Amina: I love you.

Elvino: I love you.

Villagers: Yay!

Amina: I love you.

Elvino: I love you.

Amina: I love you.

Elvino: I love you.

Amina: I love you.

Elvino: I love you.

Villagers: Yay!

Lisa: Bitch, please.


State Opera South Australia presents La Sonnambula by Vincenzo Brllini. Directed by Julie Edwardson, conductor Benjamin Northey, designer Richard Roberts, lighting designer Matt Scott.  With Emma Matthews, Also Di Toro, Andrew Collis, Teresa La Rocca, Sally-Anne Russell, Stiveni Talei, Robert Macfarlane, the State Opera Chorus and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.  At the Adelaide Festival Theatre.  Season closed.