Monday, March 16, 2020

Poles apart in mood, united by excellence, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi bare their soul from University of Melbourne’s Conservatorium of Music

These words are few for an experience felt so strongly. Two Puccini pieces poles apart in mood to take one’s mind off the outside world for a couple of hours opened on Thursday night at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre. For the narrow window left before the inevitable shutdown of arts venues, it was a little chance to reflect on the value of opera and the performing arts. Presented by the University of Melbourne’s Conservatorium of Music and directed with clarity and thought by internationally accomplished Australian director Andrew Sinclair, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi continue the fine work at play in the The Con’s culture.

Esther Counsel as Suor Angelica and chorus of nuns
Paired as they are, these two one-act operas rather demonstrate how one’s emotions can be tipped or manipulated so easily. In these unexpected and turbulent times the world has suddenly fallen victim to, it seems uncanny that they premiered in New York in 1918 during the influenza pandemic. 

Suor Angelica is a tragedy that speaks in volumes of personal rights being unjustly taken away, both by individual and institutional means while Gianni Schicchi hams up circumstances around death when families jostle for a piece of inheritance. Forget inheritance for a moment, think about the insane greed as the scramble for toilet paper goes ahead. 

‪More importantly, young soprano Esther Counsel sang the title role of Suor Angelica with intense emotional focus and melting vocal technique while the sisters around her coloured her closed abode with infectious personality and excellent voice. Seasoned performer Heather Fletcher’s stiff and frozen hearted Principessa was a storm cloud of impressive vocal drama and accompanied Puccini’s musical shift from floral to thorny with foreboding power.‬ And you couldn’t help but notice combined quality and teamwork between cast and musicians as the score resonated with richness under conductor Richard Davis.‬

Darcy Carroll as Gianni Schicchi, Amelia Wawrzon as
Lauretta and Alastair Cooper-Golec as Rinucco
Outwitting the Donati family in a superbly comical and stylish performance, baritone Darcy Carroll’s latest role as the titular Gianni Schicchi added further stars to his growing list of achievements, showing delightful natural instinct and brilliantly deployed characterful and musical quality in his art. Soprano Amelia Wawrzon was a crisp and sparkling presence and exacting vocal artist as Lauretta, her rendition of “O mio bambino caro” giving the aria’s popularity adorable pleading tenderness. Lover boy Rinuccio was warmly and competently sung by tenor Alastair Cooper-Golec, their final duet an especially impressive moment and mentor Conal Coad is a fluorescent surprise as the most senior Donati in a modern hip, accessible interpretation. 

Given conceptual straightforwardness and effective aesthetic design, both works lit up and beautified the soul. Kudos to the future carriers of the art of opera for their expertise, professionalism, resilience and heart. Never give up!

Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi
University of Melbourne Conservatorium of Music 
Malthouse Theatre
Until 15th March 2020

Production Photos: Gregory Lorenzutti

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