Enter La Sonnambula

La Sonnambula’s performance history at the Bolshoi is not a great one — the opera has appeared in the repertoire just four times. The Theatre’s first production, however, was only six years after the world première — in December 1837. While the first night of the last Bolshoi Theatre Sonnambula was in December 1891 (when it was given a total of four performances before being dropped from the repertoire in January 1892).

After its long absence, La Sonnambula is returned to the Bolshoi by the illustrious director and scenographer Pier Luigi Pizzi, known for his baroque and bel canto opera productions.

Pier Luigi Pizzi belongs to the same glorious ranks of outstanding Italian theatre people as Giorgio Strehler, Franco Zeffirelli and Luca Ronconi, while his creative range embraces the entire history of opera — from the baroque to the present day. Pizzi did not immediately take up the profession of director, starting off as scenographer and costume designer. Today he brilliantly combines all three professions.

And remarkably, though he has a simply incredible number of romantic operas to his credit, this was to be his first Sonnambula.

Pier Luigi Pizzi:

“I was amazed to learn that La Sonnambula had not been heard at the Bolshoi Theatre since 1892. However, it was this discovery which prompted me to the treatment of the opera which I am presenting. To transfer La Sonnambula to the present day, would be to divest it of its romantic aura without which it is unthinkable. This opera has to have the quality of an elusive dream. But, nor did I want the action to unfold at the time the opera was created, the remote from us ‘costume age’, since this might inhibit the artists from behaving naturally on stage. I therefore transferred the action to the period when La Sonnambula vanished from the Bolshoi Theatre stage, to the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, the time of Chekhov.

Chekhov’s world is in some sense very similar to that of Bellini. It is incredibly poetic and invariably colored by a gentle melancholy. A note of sadness is always present in Bellini’s music — even at moments of total jubilation. With Bellini shades of feeling are very complex, one emotion conceals another, much is built on counterpoint — just as in the case of Chekhov. And for this reason I decided it would be via Chekhov that I would re-introduce La Sonnambula to the Moscow public.

I did not want the production to turn into a quaint ‘picture-postcard’ and I therefore rejected an emphatically Swiss aesthetic, in favor of a landscape more familiar to the Russian public. The Russian countryside is very poetic, I have a very vivid image of it — an image of absolute purity which is so suitable for La Sonnambula.”