The BYU School of Music will present “A Grand Night of Opera” on Oct. 25-28. The production will consist of two beloved operas by Giacomo Puccini, “Suor Angelica” and “Gianni Schicchi.” The production will be accompanied by the BYU Philharmonic conducted by Kory Katseanes.
While originally presented with a third opera as a trilogy titled “II trittico” in 1918, performing the operas as a duo highlights the striking contrast between the two works, despite their similar themes.
“They both deal with wills, death and convents, so there are themes that tie them together,” said Joshua Lindsay, director of the production and professor of vocal performance. “But they are extremely opposite from one another. One is a very operatic, over the top-tragedy and then following the intermission we present a whimsical comedy.”
The tragic “Suor Angelica” tells the story of Sister Angelica, a woman forced into a convent by her family to cover up a scandal. Rather than finding sanctuary and solace, Sister Angelica’s aunt arrives to coerce her to sign away her inheritance and relay the news of her son’s death. Overcome with grief, Sister Angelica decides to take her own life, only to realize she is committing a sin in doing so.
“The last scene of ‘Suor Angelica’ is basically a monologue,” Lindsay said of the opera’s most memorable moment. “It is full of emotion and power, both theatrically and musically.”
Conversely, “Gianni Schicchi” is a comedy about the greedy family of the recently deceased Buoso Donati who has left his fortune, not to them, but to a monastery. The family seeks the help of Gianni Schicchi who comes up with a clever plan to rewrite the will. Unfortunately for the family, Gianni Schicchi has his own idea of who the rewritten will should favor.
While the opera is a comedy, it also includes one of Puccini’s most famous and heart-wrenching ballads, “O mio babbino caro.” The aria, which is possibly the most well-known in opera, is sung to Gianni Schicchi by his daughter, Lauretta.
“‘O mio babbino caro’ is a great aria,” said Lindsay. “But the story is hilarious and very witty.”
Dylan Glenn, a vocal performance and Spanish studies student who sings the character of Marco, highlighted what makes the opera so amusing. “This is intended to be a laugh-out-loud sort of experience,” Glenn said. The situations are so far-fetched and the characters are so delightfully absurd that you can't help but laugh. It's also the perfect introductory experience to opera, so I'm also hoping that people who normally don't like opera come away with a newfound appreciation.”
Lindsay expressed his excitement over the talented cast of singers in the production. Aubrey Odle, a graduate student studying vocal performance sings La Zia Principessa in “Suor Angelica” and Zita in “Gianni Schicchi.” She explained what makes performing in these two operas a unique experience.
“I love the dichotomy of playing a dramatic character and a comic character,” Odle said. “It gives me the opportunity to test my ability to play different characters on stage. I also love interacting with so many characters onstage, especially in ‘Gianni Schicchi.’ I’ve grown as an artist through working with so many talented people.”
In addition to the cast’s performances, the two different worlds of the operas will be distinguished by the very creative use of a single set.
“We had to create a set that could be used for both operas,” Lindsay said. “How do you make a set that is a monastery and a mansion? That is the conundrum. I looked at many different cloisters and wealthy Florentine houses. I started seeing patterns.”
The set includes archways that could be found in an ornate Florentine mansion as well as a humble cloister. Transferable decorations make each setting unique. A set piece that is a chapel in “Suor Angelica” becomes a balcony for “Gianni Schicchi.”
The costumes will also enhance the polarity between the two operas. While “Suor Angelica” will be performed with very traditional costumes, “Gianni Schicchi” will be set in the 1950s, a time period which allows for brighter colors.
“‘Suor Angelica’ will be very black and white, very stark. On the other hand, ‘Gianni Schicchi’ will be very bright with outlandish colors,” Lindsay said.
Odle expressed what she hopes audiences will gain from experiencing the two operas. “I believe these two operas express great depths of human nature. Even if you haven't experienced these circumstances personally, anyone can take something from them.”