• OTF – Puccini’s Trittico, Part Two – Suor Angelica

    We continue our look at the three operas of Puccini’s Trittico, and now arrive to probably the most popular of the set Suor Angelica.

    Suor Angelica and the other Trittico Operas

    As I tried to say in my first post of this series, the Puccini Triptych doesn’t provide an overarching viewpoint that truly and fully reconciles the three operas. Each opera has some level of kinship with the others however, and we have here two dominant themes that provide some unity. The sense of pending gloom, of despair and desperate measures gives it something in common with Tabarro, and the theme of pending damnation harkens to Schicchi – although Angelica does have a sense of redemption that Schicchi clearly does not, as the main character in that opera continues with his capital sin in spite of the pending consequences in the hereafter.

    The Tip of the Iceberg

    What is fascinating for me, is how one so readily feels empathy for Suor Angelica, an empathy that amplifies the depth of the emotional roller-coaster that the final 15 minutes of the one-act opera represents. Unlike, for example, with Cio-Cio San or Tosca, where it takes a full three hours to build up the emotion, and present all the dramatic elements that allow you to develop empathy for the character, Puccini only has a little more than half an hour for you to connect with his heroine, and consider her dramatic choices.

    Puccini manages this feat by presenting Angelica in the context of a story most listeners will quickly understand: the oft-used plot device of the convent, and of someone who finds refuge within it. It does not take long for the listener to fill in the blanks of the story: Angelica is not in a convent in pursuit of a vocation, but rather was placed there, at best, to shield her from a cruel and judgmental world or, at worst, as banishment for an unspeakable act that brought shame to the family.

    Convent life is regimented, with yes community occupations within a cloistered environment (Angelica, for example, is the house herbalist, a skill that comes in handy as the drama unfolds), but also several hours of solitude, available for self-introspection and – one might think – to mull over and over the key events of one’s life. Prayer, yes, but most importantly hope is what keeps Angelica going, day in and day out, in her humble existence.

    By the time a Princess from Angelica’s past comes to visit, we as listeners have already come to all of these conclusions without the benefit of dramatic material from the composer or his librettist. As I said, looking merely at the plot that is unveiled in the first 30 to 45 minutes of the opera isn’t enough to fully appreciate, or draw conclusions on the “evitability” or inevitability of Angelica’s actions. Thus, the actions depicted in the first 2/3 of Suor Angelica are, indeed, but the tip of the iceberg.

    Puccini and the suicide of his heroines

    It must be hard to get Life Insurance if you're a Puccini heroine, as I almost certainly guarantee a tragic death awaits: Manon Lescaut in the desolation of Louisiana, the consumptive trespass of Mimi, and so on. Cio-Cio San, Tosca and the secondary role of Liu in Turnadot share a common fate with Suor Angelica: they all choose to end their lives under their own hands. One is a ritual suicide in the name of honour, the other is a snap judgment as she faces inevitable capture and likely execution. Liu’s suicide, like Butterfly’s, is again honourable, choosing death to avoid succumbing to torture and revealing the name of a man she secretly loves.

    Angelica’s suicide is very different: it is the culmination of years of quiet suffering, hanging on to the faint hope that she will be reunited with the child she had to abandon, and for which she has been confined to a cloistered life. Her decision, unlike Tosca’s, is not a snap judgment per se, but rather the culmination of a set of events and likely considered more than once in the past. As she sees it, it is the only way of reuniting with the child she lost. As the community’s herbalist, she has concocted many potions to heal and help with diseases, but upon her meeting with the Princess, and her forced renunciation of her share of the Family fortune (in other words, she now understands she has been disowned by her family and abandoned to a continued life of constant quiet torment), she will now apply her craft at creating a poison concoction.

    She faces death as a relief, signing joyfully “Good bye (Addio! Addio!)” Once her fate is sealed, however, Puccini now turns the suicide plot device on its head: buyer’s remorse in the form of possible eternal damnation, as God would not look kindly onto one’s suicide. Eternal damnation is now the likely course, and not a reunion with her child in the afterlife. We witness the agony of Angelica, a supplicant begging for divine intervention. Hasn’t she not suffered enough? Will not the Mother of God understand why she made this choice?

    Mercifully for her, and for the audience, Puccini ties the ultimate loose end, and provides the dying Angelica with one last soothing vision, reassurance as she softly passes on. There is no mistaking what happened as a dying hallucination, since the librettist clearly writes in the text “The Miracle (Il Miracolo)”. The plot is fully resolved as the curtain falls.

    The Performance

    Geraldine Farrar as Suor Angelica and Flora Perini as the Zia Principessa in the world premiere of Puccini's "Suor Angelica", Metropolitan Opera, New York City, 1918. (From Wikipedia)

    For my look at Il trittico, I am proposing the staging of the complete triptych by the Teatro alla Scala onYouTube, under Gianandrea Gavazzeni from 1983. I planned to discuss this and other “complete” tritticos this wek, but my musing went a little long, and will delay this for our third instalment.

    Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
    Suor ANgelica (Sister Angelica)
    Opera in One Act, Italian libretto by Giovacchino Forzano.
    Second of three operas that form Il Trittico (1918)

    Suor Angelica - Rosalind Plowright
    The Princess, her aunt- Dunja Vejzovic
    The Abbess- Maria Grazia Allegri
    The Monitress- Jole Arno
    The Mistress of the novices- Nella Verri

    Coro e Orhcestra Teatro alla Scala, 1983
    Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor

    Synopsis @ http://opera.stanford.edu/Puccini/Su.../synopsis.html
    Libretto @ http://www.impresario.ch/libretto/libpucsuo_i.htm

    This article was originally published in forum thread: OTF – Puccini’s Trittico, Part Two – Suor Angelica started by itywltmt View original post
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Jephtha's Avatar
      Jephtha -
      Quote Originally Posted by itwylmt View Post
      ...probably the most popular of the set Suor Angelica...
      Surely Gianni Schicchi is the most popular of the three?
    1. itywltmt's Avatar
      itywltmt -
      Here is an alternate staging of Suor Angelica:

      Suor Angelica Ermonela Jaho
      La Zia Principessa Anna Larsson
      Suor Genovieffa Anna Devin
      Suor Osmina Eryl Royle
      Suor Dolcina Elizabeth Key
      La Zelatrice Elena Zilio
      La Badessa Irina Mishura
      La Maestra delle novizie Elizabeth Sikora
      La Sorella Infermiera Elizabeth Woollett
      La Cercatrice 1 Gillian Webster
      La Cercatrice 2 Kathleen Wilder
      Una novizia Katy Batho
      La conversa 1 Melissa Alder
      La conversa 2 Kate McCarney
      Sisters Tamsin Coombs
      Kiera Lyness
      Renata Skarelyte
      Amy Catt

      The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

      Conductor Antonio Pappano

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