On Sunday, April 6, 2008, I went with friends to the Detroit Opera House to see La Sonnambula -- I was not familiar with the libretto so I’d printed out a synopsis of the opera before we left, then forgot to bring it along. (I also forgot to bring Kleenex, but didn’t think I’d be in need of tissues.)
La Sonnambula is the story of a young woman, Amina, betrothed to be wed the next day. The celebration of her betrothal to Elvino is interrupted by one of the most common plot devices ever -- a stranger comes to town. This stranger (actually the village’s long absent count) showers her with compliments to the dismay of Elvino, a jealous man.
Amina’s tragedy is that she is a sleepwalker and our la sonnambula sleepwalks into the room at the inn occupied by the count, who hasn’t as yet disclosed his identity to the villagers. Although he is tempted to avail himself of Amina’s charms, he exercises self control and leaves the inn before she tucks herself into the chaise in his room -- where she is discovered asleep in her nightgown the next morning by the villagers, who have guessed the count’s identity and come to pay homage.
Convinced she has dishonored herself and their love, Elvino breaks the engagement with bitter words.
How interesting that my first encounter with this opera be juxtaposed with the day of remembrance for Du’a Khalil which fell the following day, April 7, 2008. Du’a -- the young Kurdish art student murdered by her male family members, who decreed that she had dishonored her family by romantic interest in a local shopkeeper and stoned her to death while the male villagers watched and filmed it on their cell phones on April 7, 2007.
Even the police did nothing to help her as she lay splayed on the ground trying to protect her head, partially disrobed by her attackers, who kicked and pummeled her with cinder blocks until they'd split open her head.
The villagers in Bellini’s opera went in unison to the count begging that he speak out for Amina -- to admit to Elvino if she had dishonored their betrothal or to speak up to protect her if she had not.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in an opera, and young women like Du’a do not get off with merely being spurned, and they do not get to live happily ever after the way Amina eventually did once her honor was upheld by the count -- and only after she'd sleepwalked in front of the entire village, bereft and weeping that her fiance had unfairly accused her of dishonor and was about to marry another.
I cried for Amina that Sunday in the opera house, and I cried for Du’a and for my great-aunt, Frances, and for the 5,000 women the U.N. estimates are murdered every year by their male family members over real or perceived infractions against family "honor."
My most fervent wish is for an end to this barbaric form of murder, and for humanitarians everywhere to raise their voices in a chorus of support for the victims and to demand basic human rights for the Du’as of the world.
The victims’ voices -- their screams -- are silenced. We must remember our sisters and, in their memory, work for an end to so-called honor killings. And then all the sleepwalkers, all the young women who cannot sleep, but lie awake each night in fear, can finally slumber safely and dream sweet dreams.