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Subject: Re: Suor Angelica
From: "Pierre M. Bellemare" <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 8 Mar 1996 07:41:03 -0500
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Really, Giovanni, when you have your teeth set into something...

On Fri, 8 Mar 1996, Giovanni Christen wrote:

> It seems general believing that the miracle is a true one, and that
> Angelica gets forgiveness. I still find that a strange non-Puccinian
> ending.

A Puccini opera ending in an emotional climax? Who has ever heard of such
an ending for a Puccini opera? Indeed that is MOST UNUSUAL!

 And that's why the scene is considered the main problem by staging the work.

Actually, if you follow the libretto to the letter, the scene is not at
all difficult to stage. The doors of the chapel are flung open, revealing
the presence of the child, the Virgin Mary and a crowd of angels.
Angelica is reunited with her child and the opera ends in an orgy of
sweet musical splendour.

What is TRULY difficult to stage in SUOR ANGELICA are the convent scenes
that precede the coming of the Zia Principessa, i.e. about two thirds of
the opera. The work, it is true, is one of the most beautiful score
composed by Puccini. The libretto was very carefully crafted and is
marvelous to follow line by line and to listen to - especially in those
lively scenes in which humour is mixed with seriousness in a wonderful way.
The only problem is that they don't work at all on stage. Spectators tend
to get bored and confused by watching them simply because they can't
distinguish the characters from one another. They are all nuns and
dressed in exactly the same way, in heavy costumes MEANT to make them
undistinguishable from one another, and - to make an obvious,but
nonetheless necessary point - they all sing with female voices. Who is
who? What's going on? Unless you know the score and the libretto very
well, you're guaranteed to lose your way and not appreciate the opera AS
DRAMA. (Then close your eyes and appreciate the music, and it contains
lots of it, especially in those scenes. The Miracolo, on the other hand,
IMHO, is not up to the challenge. Puccini's music was much too sensual to
suggest the spiritual aspects of a miracle. Compare his miracolo to the
miracle at the end of TANNHAUSER and you'll immediately hear the difference.)

To go back to Giovanni and his problem, it is of an altogether different
nature and not at all uncommon. It is not that some people don't believe
in miracles, but that they DON'T WANT to  believe in one, if only for the
space of a moment, in the context of a work of art. They don't want to
let themselves go and allow themselves to enter into the soul of the
simple believer who truly believes in those things, through the power
of music and the magic of art. For this, such beliefs are nothing more
than crass superstition and not a particularly interesting part of human
experience, and they don't see anything poetic or moving in it.

What to tell them? Well, what you are seeing does not claim to be a
real-life miracle. It is a show, it is theater, artistic manipulation. The
story is invented. You are not expected to take those "events" seriously
and try finding a rational explanation for them, not any more than the
Roman Catholic Church is likely to set up a commmission to enquire into
the matter. You have nothing to fear in letting your guards down for a
fleeting moment and pretend that  you can believe in miracles for a
couple of minutes. Puccini's music might be good (although not at its
best here), but it is not powerful enough to turn you into a believer
(Puccini wasn't even one himself!) or to make you fall under the baneful
influene of priests. For the rest, if you can't do that, that's just too
bad for your!...

A few comments and a conclusion follow...

> I looked more attentively in the libretto. I found proof for my way of
> understanding the finale as Angelica's delire.
> BTW Puccini liked to make research about every detail, I would not be
> surprised if he informed himself about possible poisoning with garden
> flowers existing in 1600 before to let her use flowers - and bringing
> the datura poisoning allucinations on stage. But that is just chatting.

Hope so, because, if taken seriously, Giovanni's argument would mean that
spectators should also make some previous studies on the history of
toxicology if they want to really understand and appreciate the true
meaning of the opera.

Giovanni's degree of preparedness when he goes to the opera is
commendable and truly marvelous. How does he suggest that we prepare
ourselves for our first approach, say, to FANCIULLA DEL WEST? By learning
how to ride a horse?...

> Back to written evidence. The ending of the opera is titled "Il miracolo":
>
> The libretto states here:
> "(Gia' le sembra udire le voci degli angeli imploranti per lei la Madre delle
> Madri.)"
>
> Please note that: "*le sembra* udire le voci" - she *believes* to hear angel
> voices. We know that are her fellow nouns. She should know that better than
> the audience! Isn't evidence of her delire?

The problem with that line of argument is that people who hallucinate or are
deliring are not supposed to be aware of the subjective nature of their
experience. Either they hallucinate and do not realize that what they
think is purely imaginary, or they are imagining things in full
realization of the fact and therefore are merely daydreaming. You can't
have it both ways.

In conclusion, what are we to make of that miracle? What does it mean? IMHO,
the meaning is very clear to anyone who accepts to  be game and "believe in
miracles" for the duration of that short climactic scene. Angelica's
vision is true in the sense that she is truly being forgiven. What she
sees in her vision is what will happening be happening to her in heaven
or may already be happening to her, because, for all we know, she might
already be dead and this might be a terrestrial vision of her coming in
paradise.

In that perspective, it will be noted that the curtain drops just as she is
being reunited with her child. If Giovanni is right, and Puccini's
intention was to make us aware of the combined influence of religious
delusions and datura poisoning in early 17th century Italy, he might have
made things much clearer by going farther and showing us the poor girl
dropping dead to the ground with the hallucination disappearing suddenly
at the same time - leaving the stage dark and empty. THAT would have been
a most bizarre ending for a Puccini opera!...

Pierre M. Bellemare
[log in to unmask]

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