We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, July 8, 2017


Cast of Suor Angelica

Although Giacomo Puccini wrote a trilogy, Prelude to Performance wisely decided to present only two parts, focusing their attention on the two one-acters that employed a large cast and which provided a fine balance between the tragic and the comic. We are pleased to report a stunning success in that we were moved to tears and then to laughter. This only happens when a committed cast dedicates themselves totally to the work and the original intention of the composer and librettist are honored with fidelity.

The tragedy of Suor Angelica is both personal and cultural. The cultural tragedy is related to the sexually repressive period in late 17th c. Italy. Poor Suor Angelica has borne a child out of wedlock, probably due to innocence and ignorance; she has been hustled off to a convent and hasn't seen anyone from her family in seven long years.

The personal tragedy is that she finally receives a visit from her aunt La Zia Principessa who comes on a mission of getting Angelica to sign over her inheritance in favor of her sister who is about to be married, after a presumably chaste courtship. The aunt treats her niece with scorn and derision. What news of the male child?  He died of an illness a couple years earlier but no one had seen fit to share this news with the mother. "Everything was done to save him", claims the aunt. Somehow we did not believe her.

Angelica, an expert in herbology, takes poison then realizes she will be damned and prays to the Virgin for forgiveness. She experiences a vision or hallucination of the child she lost and dies believing in her salvation.

This is very much a story of its time since women can now choose to have a child without the questionable benefit of matrimony! Thankfully, the story was not updated and we did not spy a single sister bearing a cell phone.

What we did spy was a superlative cast working in concert and creating a supportive society filled with individual characters, each unique in spite of the uniform habits.

Soprano Michelle Johnson's performance of the lead role left nothing to be desired. During her scene with the rejecting aunt, she lost her convent cool and exhibited profound flashes of the anger and despair that had been suppressed and finally erupted.  Her "Senza mamma" was as moving as any we have heard. This is a sizable instrument used judiciously!

Similarly, mezzo-soprano Leah Marie de Gruyl created a hateful character that was just as totally believable as the one created by Ms. Johnson.  So effective was she that we couldn't keep from imagining what kind of upbringing she endured that made her place family reputation above familial love. Ms. de Gruyl has an impressive instrument that should take her far in the world of opera; she employed it in the service of characterization, coloring her voice with icy coldness.

The remaining nuns were also excellent. We were quite moved by soprano Nicole Rowe's Suor Genovieffa, a former shepherdess, who admitted to missing the pleasure of holding a baby lamb in her arms.

We also liked the two nuns who were responsible for provisioning the convent--Jenna Buck and Renee Richardson.  Melanie Ashkar sang well as La Maestra delle Novizia. There was not a mediocre voice onstage. Everyone sustained the beautiful legato line of the Italian. Molly Burke portrayed La Suora Zelatrice, Crystal Glen was Suor Osmina, Yulan Piao was Una Novice, Amy Guarino sang Suor Dolcina, Wan Zhao was La Suora Infermiera, and two Converse were portrayed by Hillary Hei Lee Law and Maria Zollo.

Ian Campbell's direction was superb with plenty of onstage business to keep the nuns busy. Joshua Rose provided the simple set with projections of a cloister for the first part and a sky filled with stars for the final part.  His lighting was equally effective. Charles R. Caine designed the costumes.

Under the baton of Willie Anthony Waters, Puccini's gorgeous lyricism shone brightly and limned the various characters and situations.

Review of Gianni Schicchi to follow!

(c) meche kroop

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