Richard Bonynge is at it again - fortunately! His love of neglected ballets and operas has resurrected many delights, including Offenbach's Le Papillon, Adam's Le Diable à Quatre, and Massenet's Le Cigale. Now he has rediscovered Ferdinand Hérold's La somnambule, a three-act ballet that had its premiere at the Paris Opera in 1827. Set to a libretto by Eugène Scribe and with choreography by Jean Aumer, it featured Pauline Montessu (and later Pauline Leroux) as Thérèse, whose sleepwalking causes her betrothed to doubt her virtue until he sees her walking (safely) across a mill wheel and she's awakened to general rejoicing. The ballet was a great success, with 116 performances through 1859. The scenario, of course, soon inspired Bellini's lovely opera, which was a favourite vehicle of Joan Sutherland.
Without being a major revelation, this tuneful score, nearly seventy minutes long, is well worth reviving, full of danceable melodies for groups and solos, plus dramatic music for the suspenseful moments, as whenThérèse unknowingly enters a gentleman's room at the inn or when she is recognised as an innocent victim of somnambulism. Unlike many ballets of the time, which drew heavily on airs parlants from well-known works to underline dramatic situations, most of the music is Hérold's own, which at the time aroused some unfavourable comment! Along with a few quotations from Rossini and Auber, however, the big sleepwalking tune is a once well-known romance, "Dormez donc, mes chères amours," which Tchaikovsky later borrowed for M. Triquet in Eugene Onegin.
Bonynge is fully at home in this idiom, along with his Australian orchestra, so let's hope for more, perhaps even including Hérold's once famous opéras-comiques Zampa and Le Pre aux Clercs. The notes are helpful, while the print on the cover, with Thérèse entering a window, suggests the Sylph at the window soon after in La Sylphide.