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Natalie Dessay stars in La Sonnambula this week on the Lyric Stage.

In the 1820's, there was a fashion for stage works featuring sonnambulism or sleepwalking. This led to a popular 1827 ballet The Sleepwalker, or the arrival of a new Lord, and it is that work that in 1830 inspired Bellini and his librettist Felice Romani to write La Sonnambula, The Sleepwalker. It premiered in Milan in 1831.

The music is timeless, and you hardly need to know what the plot is to appreciate the opera, but it does have a plot, albeit one that has not worn well nearly 200 years after the opera's premiere.

Amina, a Swiss village girl, is engaged to a fellow villager, Elvino. All is happy until the arrival of a mysterious stranger, Count Rodolfo. He admires Amina. Elvino does not like this, and he really doesn't like it when Amina is found asleep in Rodolfo’s room at the local inn late at night. But when Amina is found to be an innocent sleepwalker, a sonambulist, all ends happily, with Amina and Elvino back together.

One critic describes the opera as "all about innocence," and that in the hands of Bellini what is a simple minded plot complements the "inspired innocence" of Bellini's melodic style.

Others have said the success of the opera rests on having spectacular singing. Actually, the success of most operas rests on the singing, and the singing from our highlights tonight is spectacular. Soprano Natalie Dessay is Amina, the sleepwalker, tenor Francesco Meli her betrothed Elvino, and the disruptive Count Rodolfo is sung by bass Carlo Colombara. Soprano Jael Azzaretti is Elvino's ex - girlfriend to whom he huffs off to when Amina is found asleep in Rodolfo's bedroom. The orchestra and chorus of the Lyon Opera is conducted by Elvino Pido.