|Michelle Blauman and Xiaotong Cao (photo by Carol Rosegg)
Giacomo Puccini's Suor Angelica, celebrating its centennial, has been heard many times, mainly as part of an evening's production of Il Trittico, comprising Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi. There was something special about seeing this work up close and personal that resulted in our experiencing the work anew and being moved in ways that we had not been before.
Instead of a collection of nuns, we observed each one exhibiting a different personality behind the nearly identical ecclesiastical habits. We consider it a major triumph of director Dona D. Vaughn that we had different feelings for each one!
The eponymous Suor Angelica was portrayed by superb soprano Xiaotong Cao. She seemed on a different level from the others. Apparently she had adjusted to the cloistered life although her admission to the convent had probably been not exactly elective. Culture at that time was not kind to girls who got pregnant out of wedlock, especially if they came from aristocratic families. Hiding the "sinners" away in convents was considered the only solution to deal with the family's shame.
This in itself seems tragic but tearing a mother away from her infant seems even more tragic. Poor Angelica has harbored secret wishes for a visit from her family but when the visit finally comes it is her aunt, La zia principessa who arrives with no love or forgiveness, just disdain and some documents through which Angelica must sign away her inheritance.
The role of the aunt was played by Michelle Bauman with rigid posture, icy demeanor and wonderful mezzo-soprano tone. We tried to figure out why she was costumed in the Italian version of Dior's post-war "New Look" with a silly hat. It was probably done to provide some chronological resonance with the first opera on the program but it served to undercut her critical authoritarian stance and gave the lie to her arrival in a coach with a family crest. We far prefer the character wearing a long black dress and veil!
Another mezzo, Erin Reppenhagen, shone in the role of the Monitor, doling out corrective punishment to the nuns for their minor infractions. Yet another mezzo, Gabriella Chea, excelled as the Abbess.
Among the nuns, our favorite character was Suor Genovieffa, sung by the sweet voiced soprano Hannah Friesen. When she sung of her longing to hold a lamb, we were quite moved.
But the most moving moment was toward the end when Angelica rips off her wimple and collapses on the floor in tears, lamenting the death of her son. Having poisoned herself she believes herself to be damned and thereby separated eternally from the boy. We confess to a bit of water in the eyes.
We enjoyed the two Lay Sisters played by Michelle Capano and Cambrey Willhelm. The Mistress of the Novices was sung by mezzo Mengran Jia and her charges comprised Amanda Larkin, Lauren Curet, Duqingna, and Nicole Rowe.
Xiao Xiao and Sophie Blatt portrayed the Begging Sisters who brought provisions via bicycle. Corinne DeJong was Suor Osmina and Bridget Casey was Suor Dolcina.
The set was repurposed from the first work, this time with the second story shutters tightly closed and a fountain in the center of the courtyard. Mr. Micoleau's lighting was effective but we would have loved to see the golden light which purportedly illuminates the fountain only three days a year!
This is such a great opera with so many female roles, giving opportunities to so many female singers. Each one was wonderful in her own way.
There are three more opportunities for you, dear reader, to share in this outstanding experience--tonight, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. The newly redecorated Neidorff-Karpati Hall has excellent acoustics and is just the right size. Don't miss out!
(c) meche kroop
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.