Berliner Morgenpost


Original and full of humour

With the Puccini one-act opera "Suor Angelica" Kirill Petrenko presents his first educational project in the Philharmonic Hall

One expects an opera performance, semi-staged, in the Philharmonic Hall. One looks forward to a beautiful overture, played by an orchestra, but things turn out differently: several performers move on stage in Pina-Bausch dance theatre style, making strange sounds and fuzzing through their hair, while a young pianist plays Puccini melodies, which, however, always drift off into the jazzy. A look at the programme clears things up: Before the actual opera "Suor Angelica" by Giacomo Puccini, a "prologue" for solo piano by the Israeli composer Matan Porat, who himself sits at the piano, is heard. Now Kirill Petrenko comes on stage, and the piano prelude seamlessly merges into the overture to Puccini's one-act opera. An original start for a rarely performed musical theatre work. "Suor Angelica" forms the lyrical middle piece within the "Tritticco" (in English: triptych), which is framed by the tragic one-act play "Il tabarro" and the cheerful opera "Gianni Schicchi". The somewhat maudlin libretto is by Giovacchino Forzano. "Suor Angelica" is set in a convent near Siena at the end of the 17th century. The audience is confronted with the everyday life of the novices. Many things revolve around the misdemeanours of the nuns, who are severely punished by their teacher.

At first Sister Angelica is shown as one of many, but in the course of the play she gradually becomes the protagonist. She comes from a noble family who was sent to a convent for punishment. When her merciless aunt visits her there to obtain a waiver from Angelica regarding the parental inheritance, Angelica learns from her aunt that her illegitimate son, whom she gave birth to before her novitiate, has died. After the aunt has left, Angelica falls into heavy mourning. She only wants to die to be with her child again and cooks a poisonous potion to kill herself. When she has ingested the poison, she becomes aware of the sinful act and she asks the Mother of God for mercy. Meanwhile, the church begins to shine, it opens up and reveals the view of a flock of angels. The Virgin Mary leaves the church with a blond boy who slowly walks towards Angelica, accompanied by the choir of angels. Angelica dies.

For the vocal parts, which are covered exclusively by female voices, outstanding female singers from various nations from Berlin's music academies were engaged, while the orchestra was made up of scholarship holders from the Karajan Academy. Vocal support was provided by the Project Choir of the Vocal Heroes Chrogram. The artistic result was simply overwhelming. The American soprano Ann Toomey in particular delighted in the role of Angelica with the colourful range of her voice, as did the Swedish star singer Katarina Dalayman, who was won as a guest star for the role of Angelica's aunt; she performed with great emotional intensity and outstanding technique. The French singer Sarah Laulan also convinced with her velvety, full alto.

The novices seem like dropouts of the present

Nicola Hümpel's direction was original and full of humour. Together with set designer Oliver Proske, she provided a contemporary production of the historical material. The novices in their simple clothing, which was chosen by Nicola Hümpel far away from all nun clichés, looked a little bit like dropouts of the present time, who want to find themselves in a spiritual camp far away from everyday problems and yet fight each other often enough. A special feature of the actresses in this performance is that each of the 13 women comes from a different country and all five continents are covered. The pedagogical idea behind this is that people from different nations and cultures should come together, exchange their experiences and make music together. Through the use of video screens, the faces of the performers were regularly shown in close-up, which placed special emphasis on mimic play.

In collaboration with the Russian world-class conductor they performed at their best musically. Wonderfully floating, full of dancing lightness and with a lot of warmth of heart they made Puccini's score sound. For the young amateur singers in the choir, too, the collaboration with such an empathic thoroughbred musician as Petrenko must have been a special moment in their lives. The way Petrenko communicated in all directions on stage showed that he is a highly experienced opera conductor who knows how to coordinate the various actors in a performance. There was plenty of applause for this in the sold-out Philharmonic Hall.

Mario-Felix Vogt, 03.02.2020


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