Opera in Savannah


By Ryan McMaken

Photos courtesy of Savannah Music Festival 

Savannah Music Festival and Savannah VOICE Festival present:
Puccini’s Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi

March 20 and 22 at Lucas Theatre for the Arts

Featuring the Savannah Philharmonic and members of its chorus, conducted by Eugene Kohn, director Joachim Schamberger, and principals Veronica Villarroel, Mark Delavan, Micaela Oeste and Susan Nicely

In the debut of opera at the Savannah Music Festival (SMF), Sherrill Milnes and Maria Zouves’ Savannah VOICE Festival has teamed up with SMF to produce two one-act works by famed opera composer Giacomo Puccini: Suor Angelica (a tragedy) and Gianni Schicchi (a comedy) from Il trittico. Sung in Italian with projected English translations, this lavish production will come to life in a virtual set designed and directed by Joachim Schamberger. This special co-production is in honor of Sherrill Milnes’ 80th birthday and will take place on opening weekend of the 2015 Savannah Music Festival. 

It was after the completion of Tosca (1900) that Giacomo Puccini first contemplated the idea of composing a trilogy of one-act operas for performance on a single evening. Puccini’s original concept was for Dante’s Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso to provide the basis for the plots. Other projects intervened, as Puccini continued to search for the appropriate librettos for his operatic trilogy. Puccini completed the first of Il trittico’s operas—Il tabarro (The Cloak)—on November 25, 1916. The libretto, by Giuseppe Adami, was based upon the one-act play by Didier Gold, La Houppelande (1910).

Giovacchino Forzano crafted the librettos for Il trittico’s two remaining works—Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi. The story of Suor Angelica was Forzano’s own creation, while Gianni Schicchi was based upon brief excerpts from Dante’s Inferno. Puccini completed these operas in the fall of 1917 through the spring of 1918.

Suor Angelica, which will be sung by soprano Verónica Villarroel, is the tragic story of a young royal separated from her son by being exiled in a convent. As she awaits word about her life outside the nunnery, a visit from her princess aunt, being sung by mezzo-soprano Susan Nicely, sheds light on the divergent paths of either eternal damnation or graceful redemption.

The story of Gianni Schicchi, which will be sung by baritone Mark Delavan, is about family, fortune and a clever man from Florence. A spin-off from Dante’s Divine Comedy, the farce centers around the Donati family, as they mourn the death of their wealthy uncle, Buoso. Finding he has left his fortune elsewhere, they scheme to recapture his wealth by asking Gianni to devise a plan. Why shouldhe save them? Because his daughter, Lauretta, sung by Micaëla Oeste, is in love with their nephew! 

The destruction of World War I made any immediate staging in Italy of Il trittico impossible. For that matter, Puccini was unable to attend the premiere, which took place at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on December 14, 1918. For the premiere, Metropolitan Opera General Manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza assembled a spectacular team of singers. A trio of prima donnas—Claudia Muzio, Geraldine Farrar and Florence Easton—sang the soprano leads in the three operas. The legendary Italian baritone, Giuseppe de Luca, created the title role in Gianni Schicchi.

It was Schicchi that fared best on opening night. Henry Krehbeil wrote for the New York Tribune:

An invigorating breeze blew through the theatre when the curtain rose on Gianni Schicchi. …This comedy is so uproariously funny, the music so full of life, humor, and ingenious devices. Though there is less singing than in the preceding pieces, it was received with uproarious delight, signs of appreciation not waiting till the closing of the curtain.

To this day, Gianni Schicchi remains the most popular and performed of the trittico operas. Nevertheless, all three of the works are the product of a master of the lyric theater at the height of his experience and powers.

Tickets to Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi start at $45 and can be purchased online at
www.savannahmusicfestival.org, by phone at
912-525-5050 and in person at 216 E. Broughton Street in Savannah. “Opera Experience” packages are also available for purchase and include a pre-show reception with appetizers at 45 Bistro, along with a post show meet-and-greet with the cast.

The 2015 Savannah Music Festival includes more than 100 concerts over 17 days, from March 19th through April 4th. Renowned artists in jazz, classical and a wide variety of American and international musical traditions make up what is Georgia’s largest musical arts event. Artists include Lucinda Williams, Mavis Staples, Murray Perahia, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Dianne Reeves, Shovels & Rope, Rosanne Cash, Dawes, the Heritage Blues Orchestra with Jarekus Singleton, Bela Fleck with Brooklyn Rider, Adonis Puentes and the Voice of Cuba Orchestra and many more. For a full event listing log onto www.savannahmusicfestival.org or call 912-525-5050.

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