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The juxtaposition of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, two one-act operas of a Puccini triptych, affords something for everyone — the emotional torque of a mother’s sin and sorrowful death and the high jinks of “grieving,” scheming relatives. This performance, a full dress rehearsal, was given by the Janiec Opera Company and the Brevard Festival Orchestra, Patrick Hansen, conductor. Opera directors were Dean Anthony (Suor) and David Gately (Schicchi), who is in his second summer as director of the Janiec Opera Company. Stage managers were Adam Schwartz and Kyle Urquhart, respectively. Production staff included Adam Koch, scenic designer, Anna Peterson, lighting designer, Glenn Breed, costume designer, Sarah Redding, wig and makeup designer, and Brady Hislop, sound designer. Starring in the title roles were Lori Paradoski and Will E. Liverman. Each opera was sung in Italian with English supertitles. The formal performance, sponsored by the Audrey Love Charitable Foundation, is August 8th at 7:30 at the Center’s Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium.
Puccini’s set of three one-act operas (Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi) was completed in 1917-18 and first staged by the Metropolitan Opera on December 14, 1918, as World War I was drawing to a close. While it was Puccini’s intention that all three be performed together, the latter two are the works most often staged, and as dramatic opposites they work splendidly together.
The setting of Suor Angelica, a 17th century convent, was beautifully replicated in Koch’s sets of gray drapes and arched panels. A statue of the Virgin Mary gracing a fountain was situated stage right. Puccini sets the serene tone of the convent with orchestral “hollow parallelisms” and vocal incantation-like lines that are reminiscent of chant, a foil for the high drama that unfolds when the Princess, Angelica’s aristocratic aunt (Kelly Linder Price), comes to call. Brooke Bovard as the Sister Monitress and Carrie Reid-Knox as the Abbess sang with poise and the high authority required by their roles. We meet Angelica in her arietta “I desideri sono i fiori dei vivi” and discover Paradoski’s voice — lovely and sweet, but as we hear later, capable of reaching the fortissimo high notes sometimes omitted in performance. The confrontation between Angelica and Princess was marvelously intense and dramatically believable, the tragedy of the situation underscored by music of increased intensity. From there we witness the undoing of the tragic nun who, singing a kind of Kindertotenlied, tears off her habit and takes her life in despair, and where redemption comes in the form of a miraculous vision of the Virgin just before death. The emotional punch was tremendous and inescapable — how do people who have actually lost children get through this opera?
Gianni Schicchi is set on the morning of Sept. 1, 1299, in Florence, but this production was temporally removed to the twentieth century. Flamboyant costumes (especially Schicchi’s green-checkered double-breasted suit with ridiculously wide pant legs and the aunt’s overstuffed dress) and campy good humor signaled we were in for a good time. A giant bed dominated the stage where the Florentine aristocrat, Buoso Donati, has just died, and where the schemer Schicchi will take his place. Gately’s lively staging was a masterpiece of comic action (including sight gags and much running around à la Keystone Cops), and the many ensemble passages were simply hilarious to see as well as hear. The cast was universally outstanding, with baritone Liverman delivering a superb performance vocally and dramatically. Special kudos to Zita (Rebecca Henry), Rinuccio (Yoni Rose), and to Lauretta (Laura Kachurek), whose beautiful arietta “O mio babbino caro” (My Sweet Little Daddy) was literally a showstopper.
What a night! I’m not over it yet.
Note: This double bill will be repeated on the evening of August 8. See our calendar for details.