Set in a darkly mysterious masked ball, the one-act La Sonnambula, originally called Night Shadow, tells the story of a Poet who pays suit to a Coquette, who is escorted by the Host. After a series of exotic divertissements, the elegantly attired guests go in to supper, leaving the Poet to himself. In a moment, an apparition in white enters. She is a beautiful Sleepwalker. Entranced, the Poet tries repeatedly to wake her, but she eludes him. The jealous Coquette informs the Host of the Poet’s advances to her; enraged, he stabs the Poet. The Sleepwalker reappears to bear the Poet’s lifeless body away.
The atmosphere of sinister menace that shadows the story is underscored by the Coquette’s elaborate, encircling movements, the ball’s rather pedestrian social dances, and the enigmatic dance entertainment. The combination of these choreographic elements with the central pas de deux for the Poet and Sleepwalker delineate the spirit of the 19th century Romantic movement in stark contrast to the conventions it abhorred.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Vittorio Rieti (1898-1994) was educated in Milan and Rome. He composed the music for the ballets Barabau and Le Bal for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, both choreographed by Balanchine. He also composed operas and orchestral and other instrumental works in the neoclassical style. He came to the United States in 1940 and collaborated with Balanchine on a number of ballets, including Waltz Academy for Ballet Theatre, Night Shadow for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne for Ballet Society, and Native Dancers for New York City Ballet.
Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835), was born in Sicily and died in France. He was a celebrated and highly popular composer of opera when vocal melody and vocal agility were its most valued constituents. He was a friend of Chopin, who greatly admired his melodic gift. His operas included Norma, Puritani di Scozia, and La Sonnambula.