(for background information and synopsis to these two operas see this previous article Il Tabarro & Suor Angelica on operakey.com)
Drogheda Arts Centre is quite a small theatre seating 170. It’s a wonderful modern performance space with great sound and acoustics and very comfortable seating (and a nice Café/Bar for a glass of wine at the interval). I have previously been to a production by Opera Theatre Company here and the venue is ideally suited to smaller touring productions. There was unfortunately an audience of only about 50 at this performance, a number of whom seem to have been involved with the company which left a very small attendance indeed. I always find small attendances at operatic events like this quite disappointing as anyone who knows about opera is aware of the effort that goes into preparing a public performance like this and to see so many empty seats has to be quite deflating for all concerned.
Dublin Opera Studio seems to be a relatively new development and the cast comprised of Irish and international singers, some still studying and some at the start of their singing careers. The operas were sung in their original language, namely Italian, which is obviously beneficial to a mixed nationality cast but it brings with it the problem of translation though the surtitles were quite good (the English translation was centre back stage and above the performers). Unfortunately even in the darkened theatre the translation was quite weakly lit and occasionally difficult to read which is problematic when an opera is dialogue heavy or plots are complex.
(An additional point I’d make about titling in general is that the type of stationary projected titles where the audience read them as if reading a passage from a book is not ideal, especially where the opera has a lot of dialogue. A much better system I have found is the rolling ‘ticker-tape’ titles like the rolling news items one sees running across the screen of TV news channels. The advantage is that the titles do the work and the viewer only has to watch one spot. I saw this set up in both Cork Opera House and the Everyman Theatre also in Cork and found it excellent. Additionally where performances are not sung in English there really should be a plot summary available for the audience but unfortunately there was none that I could see.)
As discussed in a previous post Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica are the first two instalments of Puccini’s Il Trittico (The Triptych), the third of which is the more widely performed Gianni Schicchi and although Puccini intended for all three to be performed together they are regularly performed separately.
The set for Il Tabarro could have been a bit more evocative of the setting of the opera, namely a canal key side and a barge on the River Seine and I don’t really think the feel of a dockside was created. The set for Suor Angelica was quite minimalist indeed and consisted almost exclusively of a large crucifix but this worked very well as it echoed the sparse and empty emotional space in which the nuns live, their monochrome religious habits also echoing the lack of colour in their routines. The music on the evening was provided by a very competent five piece ensemble of cello, flute, french horn and harp conducted from the piano by Philip Modinos.
Il Tabarro was sung very well by all cast members with baritone Gheorghe Palcu being particularly strong as Talpa and Clare McEvoy as his rather eccentric wife Frugola. John Rownan was a convincing Luigi showing passion for his role as he falls for Giorgetta’s charms and indeed Marta de Andrés performed solidly as Giorgetta, the young woman caught in a loveless marriage with Michele. Ioannis Nakos was quite restrained as Michele and he struggled a bit to adequately express the rage and jealousy his character is consumed by when he finds out this wife is being unfaithful, a rage which drives him to commit murder after all!
The only drawback with Il Tabarro was that generally the acting tended to be a bit stiff and tight and some of the more emotionally charged scenes lacked passion and spirit. This is understandable for younger operatic performers. Singing is a technical skill which can be improved and even perfected with regular practice and can be worked on more or less anytime. Operatic acting, which is much more demanding that theatrical acting, is a more difficult craft to master and the ability to convincingly get into character is a skill that tends to come with experience.
Suor Angelica is a very different kind of opera to Il Tabarro. It is more emotionally complex and reaches way deeper than the jealousy that fuels Il Tabarro. It delves into the realms of regret, despair, mental breakdown and eventual suicide, all acted out in the very solemn and restrained environment of a convent. Except for Sr. Angelica’s aunt played by Patricia v. Andersen all of the cast were in full traditional nuns habits and that visual cue in itself creates a strong cultural resonance and a specific set of emotional triggers in the audience’s mind. It certainly served to heighten the acuteness of the tragedy that was to follow.
The standout performance of Suor Angelica and indeed of the evening was Anna Gomá whos portrayal of Sr. Angelica was wonderful. She was full of the drama and tragedy of her character, is a natural actor and has a voice to match. It has to be said though that in many ways Suor Angelica is an opera that lends itself to a strong leading performance with the other characters often the observers of and commenters on the events that eventually lead to Sr. Angelica’s breakdown and death. Ms. Gomá was to say the least gripping in her performance.
The overall feel of the evening was one of young artists learning their craft and that in itself is wonderful to see and deserves every encouragement. There is so much operatic talent in Ireland at the moment and every opportunity to put it before the public to remind us should be grasped. I believe these productions are being taken to Greece for an opera festival later this year. My best wished to all involved, well done.