What at first glance would seem to be an unusual pairing of one act operas, actually resulted in a very interesting duo presented by the Liceu Sunday evening. Il Prigioniero by Luigi Dallapiccola and Suor Angelica by Giacomo Puccini are both single operas each written as part of a triplich and both based on heart wrenching stories from past centuries.
The evening began with Il Prigioniero and a distraught mother concerned for her son imprisoned during the Inquisition. All is dark and sombre when a figure, the regally clad Grand Inquisitor, appears above the mother. The mother, emotionally sung and performed by Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet set the tone for the remainder of the opera. She was also the only female role in this opera. Ievgueni Nikitin provided a strong performance as he teeters between total despair and hope in his role as the prisoner. With so much caught up within the actual story it was a shame that at times the scenery proved to be distracting. Even by Inquisition standards, the huge prison-like structure was overbearing and far too modern. Using video with black and white footage from the early to mid 20th century as a device to explain the battle victors, is creative and thought provoking, but seemed more like an early CNN news reel. For me, it added little but a distraction. The prison guards’ uniforms and even the punishments reminded me far more of current day atrocities committed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba or Abu Ghraib prison, Irak or even the happenings this past couple of weeks with ISIS in Irak. Possibly the scenery was an attempt to make a political statement, and if so, it did make an impression.
Unlike Il Prigioniero, Suor Angelica was gentler, brighter and had an all female cast. The beautiful voice of Maria Agresta who performed as Suor Angelica was truly heavenly while the talented Dolora Zajick was perfectly cast as the haughty, and rather cruel Princess/Aunt. The tension and feeling between these two performers was exciting to experience. But again, the huge prison-like structure, now a convent, somehow seemed too complex and lacked even the simplest Christian iconography. Suor Angelica, a noblewoman from Florence, had been compelled by her family to enter the convent as a result of having had a child out of wedlock. Was the intention to suggest the convent was a prison for Suor Angelica?
Il Prigioniero and Suor Angelica performed as a pair makes for a memorable operatic evening of contrasts between light and dark, good and evil, politics and religion, hope and despair, gentleness and torture, life and death, confinement and freedom. With thought-provoking performances and the Liceu Orchestra and Chorus in fine form, this program is a must-see.
The Liceu will be presenting Il Prigioniero and Suor Angelica June 25, June 27, July 1 and July 4. Still time to secure tickets.
See here to book.