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Returning to the Royal Opera House in a new and impressive production, Vincenzo Bellini’s La Sonnambula is now playing, with the last scheduled performance on Friday 18 November.   For lovers of Bellini’s bel canto style, this is a rare treat.  La Sonnambula (the Sleepwalker) was written as a showcase for the reigning soprano of the times; the title role has been performed by many outstanding voices, but possibly none better than Eglise Gutierrez.

The bel canto arias are known for their breathtaking high notes and complex, difficult passages that only a few performers can master.  Gutierrez does a magnificent job of meeting the challenge as Amina, the innocent sleepwalking maid engaged to be married.  She is ably supported by a cast that includes Celso Albelo as Elvino, her rather mistrustful fiance and Michele Pertusi as Count Rodolfo, who is the reason for Elvino’s mistrust and the catalyst for most of the action.

Elena Xanthoudakis is excellent as Lisa, proprietress of the mill where most of the scenes take place; she is also Alvino’s former lover and jealous of his engagement to Amina.  When Count Rodolfo arrives for a rest stop before continuing to the castle to which he is heir (though no one knows this yet), he is persuaded to stay the night at the inn, where he gets tangled up with the local ‘phantom’, who turns out to be no other than Amina in her sleepwalking mode.

In a series of misunderstandings, disenchantment and reconciliation, the plot could have been construed as a comedy/farce, but it goes well beyond that in Bellini’s interpretation of events.  It has been praised by devoted opera fans and critics as an outstanding example of Italian opera at its best.  Backed by the Royal Opera House Orchestra led by conductor Daniel Oren, La Sonnambula soars.