Suor Angelica – Giacomo Puccini.
Harbour City Opera, September 25th, 2013, Paddington Uniting Church.
Sung in Italian with English surtitles.
Fledgling opera company Harbour City Opera presented its first complete opera this week choosing to perform Puccini’s Suor Angelica for this inaugural event.
The all-female cast and the ability of the narrative and the music to retain their power within a simple setting make the opera an excellent choice for this debut offering. All credit to the cast and creative team who achieved a splendid milestone.
Often seen as one of a trio of operas along with Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi under the inclusive title Il Trittico, Suor Angelica was said to be the composer’s favourite of the three. Set in a convent, the single act opera is a tale of transgression, punishment, repentance and salvation. The central character Angelica is banished in disgrace to a convent by her family for bearing an illegitimate child. After seven years her first contact with her family reveals that her child is dead; her sister is to make a socially successful marriage and Angelica is forced to surrender any remaining claim to her inheritance. As the abandoned Angelica drinks poison in a suicide bid, anguished, she realises she has committed mortal sin. She prays for redemption and as she dies see a vision of her son in the arms of the Madonna, waiting for her in acceptance.
This was opera performed in unforgiving intimacy. There was no safety in distance and no large orchestra. The voices had to adapt to the space. Under the Musical Direction of Sharolyn Kimmorley at the piano, the ensemble produced a beautifully blended and sweet-toned sound which rose to formidable power at the end. The soloists – both- emerging and established – were superb. Sarah Ann Walker as the vulnerable Angelica gave a poignant rendition of Senza mamma; Sarah Court as La zia Principessa brought a sadistic touch to the male presence she symbolised with a powerful contralto; Eva Kong brought innocence and beauty of tone to the role of Suor Genevieve; Adele Johnston’s singing was as rich as her portrayal of The Abbess was forbidding; Sarah Sweeting was a perfect kill-joy as the bitter and twisted Monitor.
Director Andy Morton took the tale beyond transfiguration to explore the dynamics of gender. He recreated the oppressive and claustrophobic environment of the cloister (after all, both the words ‘cloister’ and the word ‘claustrophobia’ have the same Greek root). There is little that is pious about the cliques and rivalries that formed amongst his novices in the shadowy corridors of the nunnery. Enter Angelica, who, says Morton “transform(s) her incarceration into an opportunity for scientific education and spiritual enlightment”.
The interior of the Paddington Uniting Church was particularly apt, enhanced by Adrienn Lord’s set design which included a two-tiered performance space behind which was a sculpted Madonna, used to great dramatic effect at the climax of the tale. The lighting design by Wesley Hiscock was subtle and sympathetic.
Harbour City Opera is to be lauded for this brave new venture. It aims to cater to those who desire opera that is true to core values of vocal performance; where the production enhances the music-drama, rather than distracting from it, and offers expert training and valued performing opportunities in a professional environment.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
In 2014, Harbour City Opera will reprise Suor Angelica with I Pagliacci in March/April, present a concert of scenes from opera in July and perform Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia with orchestra in October.