The heart wrenching tale of a woman banished by her family and cruelly separated from her only child.
Opera in one act, part of Il trittico, a collection of three one-act operas including Il tabarro, and Gianni Schicchi
Libretto by Giovacchino Forzano
Sung in Italian with English surtitles
The Metropolitan Opera, New York, USA, 1918
The opera opens in a convent where the nuns are going about their daily lives. They talk about their desires. Sister Genevieve admits that she would like to see lambs again having been a shepherdess and Sister Dolcina longs for tasty food. Sister Angelica claims to have no wishes, but the other nuns believe that Sister Angelica has lied. They know her true hope is hear from her family who she has no had contact with in 7 years. The nuns have heard rumours that Sister Angelica was banished to the convent as punishment.
Their conversation is interrupted by the news that a magnificent coach is waiting outside. Sister Angelica is agitated, rightly assuming that her family has come to visit her. The Abbess announces the arrival of Sister Angelica's aunt, the Princess.
The Princess tells Angelica that she must renounce her claim to her inheritance as her sister is to be married. Angelica replies that she has repented of her sin, but she cannot forget her illegitimate child, who was taken from her 7 years ago. Without compassion, the Princess tells Angelica that her son is dead and Sister Angelica, devastated, signs away her inheritance.
Heartbroken Sister Angelica decides to end her life, in the hope that she may at least be reunited with her child in death. She realises that by taking her own life she has committed mortal sin and is dammed to be eternally separated from her child. She begs the Virgin Mary for mercy, and, as she dies she sees her child with the Virgin Mary, her son runs to embrace her, and they are finally together.
Background / The Opera
World War I was a particularly difficult time for Puccini. His publisher, Giulio Ricordi, had died in 1912, leaving the publishing house in the hands of his son — much less inclined to support Puccini’s music, and more interested in the younger, newer composers such as Riccardo Zandonai, for instance. To make matters worse, Puccini’s only son Tonio was away fighting on Italy’s northern front. And, speaking of borders, Puccini’s travels had become curtailed — so much so that he got into trouble with the Italian consul in Lugano for visiting his latest mistress — Josephine von Stängel — in Switzerland.
It was little wonder, then, that the rate of Puccini’s operatic production had slowed down. But he did manage his operetta La rondine, eventually premiered in Monte-Carlo in 1917, and there was his miraculous triptych of one-act operas, Il trittico, first staged at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in December 1918. If its final panel, that great comedy Gianni Schicchi, might have looked atypical for Puccini, it must have felt especially uplifting in the aftermath of the war. The other two parts of the trilogy are more typically Puccinian in a way — Il tabarro, a dark tale of jealousy and murder on a Paris barge, and Suor Angelica, the heartbreaking tale of a nun banished to a convent and who poisons herself in order — as she sees it — to be reunited with the young son taken away from her first by her family and then by a fatal fever.
Suor Angelica stands apart in Puccini’s output for its all-female cast. He always claimed it was his favourite of the triptych and was annoyed when it became the first to be discarded of the three. Easy though it is to see why Gianni Schicchi has remained more popular than its companion pieces, Suor Angelica breathes a very special atmosphere and showcases two great roles for singing actors — Angelica herself and her cruel-hearted aunt, the Zia Principessa. Puccini would doubtless be pleased to see Wexford putting Suor Angelica back in its own spotlight.
Puccini at Wexford Festival Opera include:
- 1971 La Rondine
- 1980 Edgar
- 2023 Gianni Schicchi
- 2023 Suor Angelica