Composer Giacomo Puccini set himself the task of dividing and conquering the emotional response of his audience with a trilogy of one act operas. He wanted the audience to gasp at the macabre tragedy of "Il tabarro," to weep openly at the pathos of "Suor Angelica" and to laugh at "Gianni Schicchi." The IU Opera Theatre’s production of the second and third of this group gave Saturday night’s audience ample opportunity for tears and laughter.
"Sister Angelica" begins in the still lovely Max Rothlisberger set of a sisterhood’s cloister during a very pleasant Sunday afternoon as the nuns relax. There is nicely staged gossip among groups. The weather is nice. A little discipline has to be meted out to the younger members of the order. The singing, in Italian with translation in supertitles, is lovely and well handled by all. There is a feeling of real community and comfortable companionship. We learn that Sister Angelica, very nicely sung by Natalie Mann, has been doing penance for seven years for having an illegitimate child and shaming her family’s name.
The real wringing of our emotions comes when Angelica’s aunt, forcefully sung by Leslie Mutchler, arrives to demand that she sign some papers for the family business and incidentally to tell Angelica that her illegitimate son is dead. In fact has been dead for two years. The IU production, directed by Vince Liotta and conducted by Thomas Baldner caused more than one audience member to shed a few tears.
Following intermission at the IU Opera Theatre it was time for comedy with Puccini’s "Gianni Schicchi." "…Schicchi" was sung in English though there were still supertitles for help in some of the denser scenes. The English following the Italian of "Suor Angelica," made me think about it as a more contemporary piece. Just as in "Suor Angelica" there are some family papers in question and a religious order to be reckoned with, but the differences are pretty dramatic. The wealthy Buoso Donati has died. His family is gathered weeping crocodile tears. But when the will is read and they discover that he has left his entire fortune to a group of friars, the tears fall in earnest. The family’s nephew, lovely clear tenor Toffer Mihalka, calls for the aid of the rogue Gianni Schicchi. Schicchi, played with panache by Corey McKern, proposes impersonating Buoso and drawing up a new will. The notary, robust basso Quincy Roberts, and his witnesses are fooled. And the family is quite content until Schicchi outfoxes them and wills most of the fortune to himself.
The hijinks Vince Liotta directed for "Gianni Schicchi," were nicely handled by the castand the audience responded with considerable laughter.