Opera North Blog

Suor Angelica in a nutshell


Everything you need to know about Puccini's Suor Angelica in one place — right here!

See Il tabarro in nutshell 

What is the story?

Suor Angelica is a unique one-act opera containing moments of harrowing drama and unequalled redemptive beauty. Beware — it can rip you to shreds…

The story takes place in a convent over one day, intensifying as it unravels. At the opera’s opening, our main character Sister Angelica claims, during a discussion among the nuns, to have no desires, but she lies. She has a hidden, burning desire — to see her illegitimate son that was taken from her seven years ago, and whom she has thought of every day. 

So when her unforgiving aunt, the Princess, pays a visit to the convent and is forced to tell Angelica that her son tragically died two years previously, she is plunged into suicidal delirium. She hears her son calling to her — she must go to meet him… but in taking her own life, she is committing a sin. Will she be redeemed, re-united, and finally accepted for who she is? 

Who are the characters?

Sister Angelica (soprano)
La Zia Principessa — her aunt (contralto)
Sister Genoveva (soprano)
The Abbess (mezzo-soprano)
The Monitress (mezzo-soprano)
The Mistress of the Novices (mezzo-soprano)

…plus many other nuns, lay sisters, alms sisters etc., each with a unique character and personality. The cast for Suor Angelica is entirely female.  

What is the music like?

In Suor Angelica (as in Il tabarro), Puccini was particularly interested in scene painting, and at the opera’s opening, creates a highly effective musical backdrop of life in the convent. Listen out for chords in the orchestra which trace a bell-like ‘ding dong ding dong’ idea, and fluttering piccolos which evoke birdsong. This peaceful setting is, however, deceptive. Puccini is lulling the audience into a false sense of calm, and lies in wait to emotionally overwhelm them towards the end of the piece. You WILL need your tissues!

Suor Angelica also contains one of Puccini’s greatest soprano arias, the heart-breaking ‘Senza mamma’ (Without a mother) sung by Angelica to her child in heaven after she has discovered that he has died. Hear it below sung by our own Suor Angelica, Anne Sophie Duprels: 

What is this production like?

This production of Suor Angelica, directed by Michael Barker-Caven and designed by Hannah Clarke, is brand new, so has never been seen before! The design conveys an unsettling timelessness and a freedom from any defined period, with the nuns' habits inspired by medieval religious dress portrayed in Dutch/Flemish portraiture, and the Princess, a character from a different world, appearing in starkly modern dress influenced by contemporary female politicians. 

Keep your eyes peeled for a spectacular finale, as dramatic video projections portraying Angelica’s redemptive vision envelop the stage…

A little more about the opera

Who was the composer?

Suor Angelica was written by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), composer of the similarly emotional and hugely popular Madama Butterfly, and arguably the most famous opera composer of all time. The libretto was created by Giovacchino Forzano, who also originated the plot, as well as that of Gianni Schicchi.

Suor Angelica forms the second panel of Puccini’s trio of one act operas Il trittico, which was his penultimate operatic work.

Some history

Once Puccini had completed his first one act opera, Il tabarro, he searched for inspiration for a second, contrasting piece. He wrote to one librettist, “this red stain needs some­thing dif­fer­ent to con­trast with it and it is this that I am look­ing for: some­thing that will be some­what ele­vated, and give me an oppor­tu­nity to write music that will take wing.”

Several months later, librettist Gio­vacchino Forzano showed Puc­cini a sketch of a one-act play set in a con­vent with an all female cast that he had writ­ten for a tour­ing com­pany. Puc­cini, whose own sister Iginia was Mother Supe­rior at the Convent of Vicopelago, saw immediately what an effective contrast it would be for Il tabarro, and Forzano set about writing an opera libretto.

The opera, along with the other two panels of Il trittico, Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi, premiered at the Metropolitan Opera, New York in December 1918. However, it was at Il trittico’s Vienna premiere that Suor Angelica really came into its own, achieving mass popularity through the spellbinding performance of star soprano Lotte Lehmann in the title role.

Did you know?

  • Suor Angelica was a personal favourite of Puccini, who once said that he “would willingly trade all of Gianni Schicchi for a single note of Angelica". He was greatly upset when, at Covent Garden in 1920, it was omitted to make for a shorter evening.
  • Puccini’s writing for the role of Angelica is unique. Her melodies often move in simple step motion rather than using his characteristic dramatic leaps, thus creating a musical halo around her. Angelica is, in his eyes, an angel by nature as well as by name.
  • In looking for inspiration for his second one-act opera, Puc­cini appar­ently asked the advice of George Bernard Shaw, and Il tabarro librettist Giuseppe Adami began comb­ing the works of Charles Dick­ens, a favourite author of Puccini, for pos­si­ble subjects! Great Expectations the one-act opera anyone? Erm….

Suor Angelica is sung in Italian with English titles and lasts approximately 55 minutes. It is performed as part of a double bill with Il tabarro.

For more info or to book tickets, visit the Suor Angelica webpage.

In a nutshell is a blog series devised by Opera North.

Suor Angelica at Opera North, 2016. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
Giacomo Puccini and Giovacchino Forzano

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