Suor Angelica Review - An Average Opera

 

OperaWest!, a new opera company dedicated to providing accessible opera to the community and professional opportunities for local singers, made its debut last weekend with a two-night run of Suor Angelica. Performed against the gorgeous backdrop of St. Ita’s Church, this production of the short, tragic Puccini opera was done well, if not superbly.

 

Suor Genovieffa (Kathleen Monson) and Company

 

Set in an Italian convent in the late seventeenth century, Suor Angelica tells the story of its title character, a former noblewoman sent to the convent as punishment for giving birth to a child out of wedlock. Although she follows every rule and devotes her life to the Virgin Mary, Angelica secretly longs for news of her family, especially the son she left behind. When her aunt visits the convent and tells her that her son is dead, Angelica commits suicide to be with him, realizing only at the last moment that in taking her own life, she has condemned her soul to hell.

 

Suor Angelica (Lani Stait) and Zia Principessa (AnnaMaria Cardinalli)

 

Two different casts performed the show on the two different nights. I attended the Friday night performance, in which Lela Philbrook played the title character. Philbrook has a gorgeous voice and a commanding stage presence; from the moment she opened her mouth, it was clear she was the star of the show. Not only a remarkably gifted singer, carrying Puccini’s dramatic melodies with flair, she is also a talented actor, successfully portraying the full range of human emotion in the short, rapidly unfolding story. Philbrook is definitely a performer to watch out for.

 

Suor Angelica (Lela Philbrook) and Company

 

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast was not as excellent. With the exception of AnnaMaria Cardinalli, whose portrayal of the Principessa was uninspired, none of the performers were noticeably poor; they were simply forgettable, a collection of nuns with adequate performance skills. The only other performer of note was Stephanie Schoenhofer, who brought a cold cruelty to La Badessa that was delightful to watch.

 

Suor Genovieffa (Kathleen Monson) and Company

 

In a space as spectacular as St. Ita’s, it’s difficult to imagine any other design work standing out, but the light design (uncredited in the program) managed to do a lot with a little, creating theatrical-style lighting with only a few instruments. Live orchestra led by Russell Vinick struggled at times to follow along with the singers, but was otherwise fine and certainly helped achieve the company’s mission of presenting fully realized opera to the general public. Kudos must also be given to stage manager Mary Rose Nicholas for both handling front-of-house duties and running a show from a less-than-conventional backstage space in the course of a single evening.  

 

Suor Angelica (Lela Philbrook) and Suor Genovieffa (Kathleen Monson)

 

While this production of Suor Angelica was certainly not the greatest operatic performance the city has ever seen, it was nevertheless an enjoyable show by a company with a noble mission: opera for all. Let us hope that the idea of accessibility will continue to expand in the opera world in the future.

 

For more information about OperaWest!, visit their website.

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