Opera Project Columbus Performs Puccini's 'Suor Angelica'

Sep 7, 2017

Opera Project Columbus, conducted by Alessandro Siciliani, presents Giacomo Puccini's one-act opera Suor Angelica in the Lincoln Theatre, Friday, Sept. 8 and Sunday, Sept. 10.

Full disclosure: I've directed shows for Opera Project Columbus. I love many of the people involved, and I'm always happy to support good opera. You can't have too much good opera.

That said, I have no involvement with this production of Suor Angelica. So I'm free to speak my mind and sit in judgment.

I recently crashed a rehearsal for Suor Angelica.

And you know what? Opera Project Columbus has put together a beautiful production of a lovely opera that can be hard to pull off.

The voices are all first-rate. What I saw of the staging told the story with clarity and skill.

Siciliani, former music director of the Columbus Symphony, lived for years on the international stage and is currently underutilized. It's good to have him in Columbus, teaching the Italian opera that is in his blood to a new generation of singers.

Suor Angelica is the second of three one-act operas intended to be performed on the same evening. Puccini called the collection Il trittico, "The Triptych." Angelica is book-ended by the violent Il tabarro, "The Cloak" and the composer's only comedy, Gianni Schicchi. 

Il trittico was performed for the first time not in Rome or Milan, but at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, almost 99 years ago on Dec. 14, 1918. Sister Angelica was sung by the glamorous Geraldine Farrar (1882-1967). She was a baseball player's daughter from Melrose, Massachusetts.

Farrar's personality, look and, yes, her voice made her New York's No. 2 box office attraction, after tenor Enrico Caruso. I doubt anyone thought to call Farrar second to anybody to her face. She was a savvy customer who became a star of silent cinema, and counted the Crown Prince of Prussia and conductor Arturo Toscanini among her lovers.

Suor Angelica was one of Farrar's—and Puccini's!—few flops. Maybe the public wasn't ready for such a story a month after the armistice was signed. 

Set in Florence many years ago, Angelica is the story of a young noblewoman by the same name who has a child out of wedlock. The baby is taken from her. She is sent off to a convent, where she lives for seven years with no word from her unforgiving family.

She has no idea what has happened to her son. The nuns know only that Sister Angelica lives with great sadness but does her best to be a useful and pious member of the community.

One day Angelica has a visitor—her forbidding aunt, La Zia Principessa​ (The Aunt Princess).

Geraldine Farrar as Suor Angelica and Flora Perini as the Zia Principessa in the 1918 world premiere of Puccini's 'Suor Angelica' at the Metropolitan Opera
Credit White Photo Studio / Wikimedia Commons

The old woman has come only to demand that Angelica sign away her inheritance. Eventually it comes out that the young nun's baby has died. "Tutto fu fatto per salvarlo," croaks the old princess—everything was done to save him.

The devastated Sister Angelica brews herself a poison and dies, crying for forgiveness. The Virgin Mary appears before her, holding a young child's hand.

It's an opera of religious ecstasy, forgiveness and music to melt any heart. I dare you to not be moved.

OK sure, it's hokey and manipulative. Suor Angelica challenges all of us to leave our cynicism and weary world view at the door. Miracles do happen, even in today's America. And good opera is always here to take us someplace else, even for a few minutes.

See you at the Lincoln. Come sit by me.