Passions run high in 2 Puccini operas

2012-03-25T05:00:00Z Passions run high in 2 Puccini operasCHARLES SPINING Special to the Sun Arizona Daily Sun
March 25, 2012 5:00 am  • 

Continuing a long-established tradition of bringing the finest of opera theater to the Northern Arizona University and Flagstaff communities, Nando Schellen, director of NAU's Opera Theatre, has assembled a cast and crew of nearly 100 singers, instrumentalists, and stage technicians to present two masterpieces by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1925) -- "Suor Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi."

In 1918, the Italian master wrote a trio of one-act operas comprised of a tragic drama "Il Tabarro" (The Cloak), the dramatic tragedy, "Suor Angelica" (Sister Angelica), and the tragicomedy "Gianni Schicchi."

The complete triptych ("Il Trittico") was first performed that year at New York's Metropolitan Opera.


NAU Opera Theatre brings the second and third parts of this remarkable trilogy to Prochnow Auditorium, with evening performances Friday and Saturday and a matinee Sunday, April 1.

"Suor Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi," pronounced "ski key," sung in the original Italian with English supertitles, are both double-cast, with 33 singers representing the outstanding talents of both graduate and undergraduate voice department students.

In the equally excellent NAU Orchestra, 40 student members, directed by Nicholas Ross, will provide accompaniment.

The complete ensemble, the largest ever used by NAU Opera, equals a total of 106. Giacomo Puccini represents the "verismo" operatic tradition that arose in the late 19th century, defined in the Harvard Dictionary of Music in this way: "The settings are contemporary; the characters are often rural and generally impoverished; the passions run high and lead to violence. There is a tendency in these works to wed the sordid with the sensational."


Puccini's trilogy is a classic example of this traditional "verismo" style.

"Puccini's music is easy to listen to, very melodic and with variations so surprisingly simple that many composers, especially in the musical theater world, have tried to copy it for their own purposes," Schellen said in a press release. "He paints the smallest detail so it's easy to follow, and yet it's quality."

"Suor Angelica" is the story of a nun living in a Roman Catholic convent in Italy at the end of the 17th century. She has been sent to the convent due to previous indiscretions, and her tragic story makes the point that we live in a cruel world, where we often seem powerless.

"This is the second time I've directed 'Suor Angelica,' and I've seen the opera many times," Schellen said. "Yet, sometimes after a rehearsal, I have tears in my eyes."


In marked contrast, "Gianni Schicchi" deals with the same theme of cruelty in a more comedic manner.

A rich bachelor has died in Florence, and his greedy relatives fight over his possessions, disputing his will and skirting the law with the help of a local rogue, Gianni Schicchi.

A surprise ending resolves this scenario.

The libretto, by Giovacchino Forzano, was developed from a few lines in Canto 30 of Dante's "Inferno."

Schellen's staging retains the original period in the first opera, while utilizing a contemporary setting in the second.

During rehearsal Wednesday, Schellen said the first part of the trilogy, "Il Tabarro," is not being performed because it requires "more mature singers," who are older and have already started their professional careers.


Sopranos Laura Ethington and Emily Wells portray the lead character of Sister Angelica and baritones Scott Balantine and Quentin Lee share the character role of Gianni Schicchi.

Samantha Gorham and Rehanna Thelwell alternate in leading roles in both operas, as do Maggie Boland and Catherine Thornsly in "Suor Angelica."

The romantic couples in "Gianni Schicchi" are alternately portrayed by Erin Entringer, Catherine Steinbrink, Andrew Surrena and Miguel Saucedo.

Others are double cast in smaller roles in both operas, and the full cast unites for the large choral finale to "Suor Angelica."

"I'm so proud of them," said Schellen, speaking about his singers. "There's so much talent here."

Brian Lockard has provided invaluable services as rehearsal accompanist and vocal coach, and scenery, lighting, and costumes are designed by Zachary Huffman and Jennifer Peterson.

School of Music Department Director Todd Sullivan will appear in a cameo role as the dead body of Buoso Donati in "Gianni Schicchi."


With NAU's Ardrey Auditorium undergoing extensive renovation, the alternative venue at Prochnow Auditorium has presented some significant challenges for this fully-staged musical production.

Through the years, a significant portion of the original orchestra pit was lost to building renovation and modification.

This has resulted in the availability of only a reduced portion of that original area, and necessitating a reduction in orchestral forces.

At full capacity, the auditorium holds 800, but fewer seats will be available because, in addition to the small pit area, the orchestra will be using the first two theater rows.

The stage itself is not nearly as "user-friendly" as in Ardrey Auditorium, requiring some creative and skillful stagecraft.

Schellen said he believes he has successfully negotiated these obstacles in utilizing this new venue.


WHAT: "Suor Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi," two short (50-minutes each) operas by Giacomo Puccini. NAU Opera Director Nando Schellen gives pre-concert lecture, Friday and Saturday, at 6:40 p.m. and Sunday, at 1:10 p.m.

WHEN: Friday and Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 1, at 2 p.m.

WHERE: NAU's Prochnow Auditorium

TICKETS: $8, students; $10, NAU employees; $18, seniors; $22, general public. Available through NAU Central Ticketing, call 523-5661.

PARKING: Free parking available at Parking Lot P3, behind Gammage Building. Also, on top level of the High Country Conference Center parking garage, located on West Dupont Avenue.

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