Conductors Note | Suor Angelica

Feb 13, 2023

Of all of Puccini’s operas, Suor Angelica is truly one of my favorites. With elements of a perfect emotional thriller (hope, betrayal, and sacrifice), it is a story of two closed and powerful societies, one religious, the other aristocratic, connected by a provocative secret. As beautiful melodies are the trademarks of Puccini’s works, this opera contains some of the composer’s most breathtaking efforts. But Puccini’s genius lies not just in his ability to spin stunning tunes. Whether consciously done or otherwise, he has given each character a specific orchestral color, following them throughout like a faithful companion: bright chords and shorter melodies from the woodwinds accompany the sisters’ conversations during leisure. Muted trumpets appear with prayers and during “Amen”, suggesting celestial messages from beyond. Subtle uses of dynamics and the placement of the flute in its lowest register suggest the mournfulness of time’s passage. Perhaps the most dramatic and stirring moment occurs when Sister Angelica sings her first uninterrupted, long melodic line “desires are the flowers of the living, never blooming in the realms of death,” quietly supported by the strings and the woodwinds, before the orchestra surges upwards to match the depths of her sadness, foreshadowing the tragedy to come. In an environment of constant restraint, the sisters are shocked into silence, while the orchestra expresses the barely controlled tension in the room.

— Judith Yan

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