The IU Opera Theater opens their spring semester with a touching tragedy and a wildly comic farce. It’s a Giacomo Puccini family of two, featuring the sad sister, Suor Angelica, and the raucous rascal, Gianni Schicchi.
The production team features two returning artists. Stage director James Marvel was here just last year for a scarily dark Lucia. Conductor Andrew Altenbach returns to conduct a MAC opera for the first time since 2005, when he became the first IU student to conduct a MAC opera following the sudden death of guest Randall Behr.
During Saturday night’s performance of Angelica, Lenora Green sang beautifully, projecting the pathos of the sad role of a woman separated from her family, society and even the child she’s borne out of wedlock. Laura Boone was so coldly effective as her unforgiving aunt that I thought the audience might hiss her at the curtain call.
For Suor Angelica, stage director Marvel blends natural gestures with balletic progresses and rituals. Each of the sisters is a real individual; each sang well, and the ensembles—coached by Sue Swaney—were gorgeous. Frankly, I’ve seen productions of Suor Angelica that were lovely, but dull. This was thoroughly involving theatre.
Marcelo Ferreira was the evening’s Gianni Schicchi. He made the rogue such an attractive figure that I imagine he gets his haircuts from Figaro. Caryn Kerstetter and Marco Stefani were affecting as the young couple that his roguery aids. Kerstetter did a nice performance of the show’s hit, “O mio babbino caro.”
Gianni Schicchi is Puccini’s only comedy, and during its writing he fully indulged himself. During the opening of this performance, the voices were too small for the orchestra, but supertitles carried the story and things were more balanced as the opera went on. The IU production is a flat-out farce that brims over with ensemble gags and character bits. It’s a very funny show. The audience laughed at the cast’s hijinks, and warmly applauded the happy ending.
Throughout, conductor Altenbach showed a steady hand marshalling orchestra, soloists, chorus and the special effects. Patrick Mero’s lighting was an able dramatic partner for the music. C. David Higgins’ costumes were a pleasure to see, and the clever use of the same basic set for convent drama and bedroom farce was neatly handled.
At the theater for you, I’m George Walker.