Vancouver Academy of Music

Puccini Double Bill - Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica

Waterfront Theatre - Friday, June 18,1999 7:30pm

by Amanda McArthur

I cannot think of a more enjoyable way to spend a sunny evening than down at Granville Island - shopping, eating, sitting by the water watching the ducks, geese, birds and turtles play, or going to the opera! Waterfront Theatre was a delightfully intimate setting for Vancouver Music Academy's production of two one-act pieces from Puccini's trilogy, Il Trittico.

The first piece, Gianni Schicchi, is unlike any other opera I have seen. The story is one of greed, cunning and justice- when the patriarch of a well-to-do family dies and leaves the bulk of his fortune to a monastery, the family calls on Gianni Schicchi, a peasant with whom they would not normally associate, to help alter the will. Schicchi, in the guise of the dead patriarch, wills the best part of the estate to himself and there is nothing the family can do without incriminating themselves in the process. This also provides Schicchi's daughter with a dowry so she can marry her love, who is also a relative of the dead patriarch. This opera was certainly comedic and I found that the presentation in English really highlighted the absurdity of the family's greed and false grief. The singing was excellent, if a little difficult to hear at times. The musical highlight was the aria Oh mio babbino caro, sung beautifully by Gwendolyn Alexander.

The second piece, Suor Angelica, is a tragedy. It is a sharp contrast to the first in musical style and content, but the theme of just reward is carried through. Angelica has been sent to a convent for dishonouring her family with a sexual misdemeanour. Her aunt visits Angelica after seven years to ask her to relinquish her right to the family fortune so that her sister may marry well. Heartlessly, the aunt also informs Angelica that her child did not survive and in anguish, Angelica prepares to take her own life. Justice comes when, dying, Angelica sees a vision of her child waiting for her to join him in Heaven and, greeted by angels, she finds the forgiveness she was seeking. There is a fair amount of religious music in this opera, as would be expected. The Ave Maria in the opening scene brought tears to my eyes with its marvelous harmony and its purity of sound. The whole opera is in Italian, so the audience relies on the expressiveness of the music and the performers to glean the meanings. We were not disappointed! Alexis Barthelemy was outstanding as the Principessa, Angelica's aunt - cold, hard, unforgiving. The chorus of angels at the death of Angelica sounded truly divine, and Angela Latham gave a superb and moving performance as Sister Angelica.

The sets for each piece were simple, almost spartan, but I have always found that this encourages stronger performances. I also have to recognize the tremendous efforts of the orchestra. Accompanying live performances is not an easy task, but they were very professional and added to the enjoyment of the evening. I can only hope that the Vancouver Academy of Music will chose to perform the third piece in this trilogy some time in the near future!