Director's Note | Suor Angelica
The interesting thing about a piece like Suor Angelica, which takes place in an Italian convent, is that you can set it in almost any time period and it would look exactly the same. It’s only the arrival of the Princess that allows us any hint at period, which for our production is post World War II. This gives us a reason for the seven year absence of word from Angelica’s family as well as a period that feels modern enough for us to see ourselves in the characters. Despite the period, the life of the nun is enduring and never-changing which is a fact that has continually piqued my interest. Puccini and Forzano give us a wonderful, gentle view of the personalities and daily life of the sisterhood in the opening of the opera that make sense in any number of centuries.
For many years, convents were a place of religious thought and prayer, but they were also protective, which was definitely true during war time. They were an option for a better life to the women who sought refuge there. In earlier centuries, sisters might find women who were living and working on the street and recruit them into the convent as a way to live a healthier, more protected life. For many young women, the convent offered shelter from all manner of ills. In our story, curiously, Sister Angelica still feels and acts somewhat like an outsider, even after seven years behind the veil.
Forzano doesn’t give us much to go on in terms of Sister Angelica’s back story. We know she was an orphan though left well off, that she has siblings, and most importantly, we know she had a son who was ripped away from her at birth (though we know nothing of the circumstances), and this is the reason she was forced into the convent life. In this story, it is not Angelica who is seeking refuge, it is her family who hoped she could be hidden away in order to cover their shame. This is a piece that, at its core, is about the ability for women to make their own choices. Through history, bodily autonomy and the ability to become a mother – or not become a mother – has been regulated and policed by everyone except the person with the womb in question. Sister Angelica was not offered a choice, lost the son she very much wanted, and was ultimately backed into a corner. Interestingly, the piece does not indict the church as much as it indicts Sister Angelica’s family and their inability to forgive, embrace, and care for her no matter her choices.
Like so many operatic works, the piece resonates today, both in the established sisterhood of the nuns, their suspiciousness about Sister Angelica, and her lack of autonomy as a woman.
- Keturah Stickann