Here's Maria Callas singing the pathetically touching pre-suicide song of a princess forced to become a nun after she had conceived a love child out of wedlock, in Puccini's short story, Sister Angelica.
The Anchorage Opera is presenting this brief masterpiece, along with Leoncavello's Pagliacci, in a duo billing that is elegant in its juxtaposition of these two short operas, together. Usually, Pagliacci is presented with Cavalleria Rusticana. Suor Angelica was designed by Puccini to be one of three one-act operas he had written to be performed together.
Torrie Allen, the Anchorage Opera's executive director created this unique duo of tragedies in which the chief singers kill, then regret killing.
Pagliacci is iconic. Its theme of a play within a play, turned amok, had been used before, and has since. But Pagliacci touches all the elements of the theme so well that it stands almost alone.
This production of Pagliacci is worth the price of the evening. I brought my Eagle River Community College music appreciation class to the dress rehearsal Thursday night, so they could experience opera, 90% of them for the first time.
Hopefully, they will come back.
From where I was in the audience, the funniest happening on stage was the torrid love scene between Nedda, sung by Jennifer Tiller, and Silvio, sung by Christopher More. More is an Anchorage music teacher. Along with singing his role very well, his acting fit the scene. Judy and I were sort of surrounded by some of his students. They were in a fit, watching him all but make love to Nedda on the stage floor. On top of that, the supertitles (the video screen above the stage, that describes the singers' lines for you in English) were more ribald than Puccini's librettist's. More's students were somewhere between LOL and ROFLMAO.
If Pagliacci was worth the price of an opera ticket, the singing of Anastasia Jamieson in Suor Angelica was worth double that. At the top of this article, I linked to the supreme 20th century Diva, Maria Callas, singing Senza Mamma, from the opera. If anything, Anastasia Jamieson was not only better in this role at which Callas excelled, Jamieson avoided all the cliches associated with singing and playing it.
Callas and others have portrayed the combination of vulnerability and desperation Puccini created. Jamieson, waif-like in ways Callas could have only dreamed of replicating, transcended the operatic limitations of the character like only the best actresses might.
Hopefully, the ensemble will fix the blocking and movement of the chorus in both mini-operas. Nancy Caudill, as Angelica's cold aunt was well cast as an actress, but the part is below her normal vocal range. She may be trying to turn it into a kind of sprechstimme. It might work ingeniously well, with more conviction.
The clown themes, on the stage, in the plays, in the plays-within-plays, in front of the stage, on swings, or leaning down over the orchestra pit, have potential. Maybe the clowns will more fully engage the audience in this, too.
Here are some samples of Anastasia Jamieson's singing.