Divine operas

USM shows off two Puccini one-acts
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  March 18, 2009


This week, Heaven, Hell, and moral ambiguity receive two sonorous treatises at the University of Southern Maine: The tragedy of Suor Angelica and the comedy of Gianni Schicchi are two one-act operas from a triptych by Giacomo Puccini, inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. They are produced in a virtuoso collaboration between USM's School of Music and the Department of Theatre, under the fine direction, respectively, of Ellen Chickering and Assunta Kent. Robert Lehman conducts the 
SUOR ANGELICA AND GIANNI SCHICCHI | by Giacomo Puccini | Stage Direction by Assunta Kent | Musical Direction by Ellen Chickering | Conducted by Robert Lehman | Produced by the University of Southern Maine's School of Music and Department of Theatre | at Russell Hall in Gorham | through March 21 | Reservations required; 207.780.5151
outstanding Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra in these sumptuous two productions, a interdepartmental partnership orchestrated only once every four years.

The evening's exploration begins in a 17th-century Italian convent, with the lyrical Suor Angelica. Sister Angelica (the dulcet Sarah Mawn, who alternates performances with Stephanie Gilbert) is a repentant "fallen woman," consigned to the order for some years now after bearing a child out of wedlock. When her merciless royal aunt, the Principessa (the excellent Jazmin DeRice), surprises everyone with her first ever visit to the convent, Angelica seeks affection and news of her son, but is to be given no solace.

Suor Angelica transpires over the course of a single day, amid the warm terra cotta hues of the convent (Alessandra Turati's graceful set design). Time's passage is beautifully rendered through lighting (by the ever-excellent JP Gagnon) that moves through bright morning, the gold of afternoon, and finally to dark indigo. The action opens as, late to morning chapel and accompanied by lively piccolo and plucked cello, Angelica and two other nuns linger on their way, thrilled by the brilliance of morning. From these opening strains of score and movement, the superbly sung production reveals itself as a sensuous confluence of music, light, and emotion.

Ruled by the Order's conventions of propriety, Angelica and the cloistered women are necessarily limited in their gestures of emotion; garbed in plain habits and long dresses, the most flesh they may reveal is in hands and moons of faces. One of the most enchanting elements of Suor Angelica is how expressively the performers convey their humanity: Faces glow with pleasure at sunlight, a bit of gossip, and the treat of fresh grapes. Contrast their simple openness to the spectacularly stiff artifice of the Principessa: Corseted and draped in rich black fabrics (Kris Hall's gorgeous costume design), DeRice's copper-haired, red-lipped Princess plays leather-gloved fingers over her cane with cruel, worldly calculation. Confronted with her, Mawn's Angelica relates an array of emotions — hope, anger, despair, beatitude — with fine physical eloquence, from her eyes to the set of her mouth and even her fingers, slightly splayed in the fervor of her prayer.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Drugs and culture, Altered states, Conversation piece, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Giacomo Puccini, Stephanie Gilbert, Ellen Chickering,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM  |  April 17, 2014
    Snowlion gets dark with a musical tragedy
  •   THE HYDROPHILIC LIFE  |  April 11, 2014
    The very winning world premiere of Underwaterguy , which Underwood both wrote and performs, runs now at Good Theater, under the direction of Cheryl King.
  •   THE PASSIONS OF PRIVATE LIVES  |  April 03, 2014
    Battle of the exes at Portland Players
  •   LEARNING TO HEAR, AND LISTEN  |  April 03, 2014
    The vicissitudes of identity and community are difficult negotiations in Nina Raine’s drama Tribes , dynamically directed by Christopher Grabowski for Portland Stage Company.
  •   THE DEAD DON'T LEAVE  |  March 28, 2014
    The complexity of familial love, regret, and shame, as seen between Charlie, who long ago moved to London, and his simple, sometimes confounding, working-class gardener father (Tony Reilly), are the crucible of Hugh Leonard’s Da .

 See all articles by: MEGAN GRUMBLING