BACKGROUND & SYNOPSIS — Suor Angelica

BACKGROUND

Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) is a one-act opera by Giacomo Puccini to an original Italian libretto by Giovacchino Forzano. It is the second opera of the trio of operas known as Il trittico (Triptych), receiving its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera on December 14, 1918, starring Geraldine Farrar as Angelica. It’s one of the few operas with only females characters. Reportedly, Suor Angelica was Puccini’s favorite of the operas of Il trittico. His writing for title role is unique, with melodies moving in simple steps rather than big dramatic leaps. Angelica is seen as a victim of the events and, in Puccini’s eyes, an angel by nature as well as by name.

SYNOPSIS

The opera opens with scenes showing typical aspects of life in the convent: the sisters sing hymns as everyone gathers for recreation in the courtyard. The sisters rejoice because, as the mistress of novices explains, this is the first of three evenings that occur each year when the setting sun strikes the fountain so as to turn its water golden. This event causes the sisters to remember Bianca Rosa, a sister who died. Sister Genevieve suggests they pour some of the “golden” water onto her tomb.

The nuns discuss their desires. While the Monitor believes that any desire is wrong, Sister Genevieve confesses that she wishes to see lambs again because she used to be a shepherdess when she was a girl, and Sister Dolcina wishes for something good to eat. Sister Angelica claims to have no desires, but as soon as she says so, the nuns begin gossiping that Sister Angelica has lied. Her true desire is to hear from her wealthy, noble family, whom she has not heard from in seven years. Rumors are that she was sent to the convent in punishment.

The conversation is interrupted by the Infirmary Sister, who begs Sister Angelica to make an herbal remedy, her specialty. Two tourières arrive, bringing supplies to the convent, as well as news that a grand coach is waiting outside. Sister Angelica becomes nervous and upset, thinking rightly that someone in her family has come to visit her. The Abbess chastises Sister Angelica for her inappropriate excitement and announces the visitor, the Princess, Sister Angelica’s aunt.

The Princess explains that Angelica’s sister is to be married and that Angelica must sign a document renouncing her claim to her inheritance. Angelica replies that she has repented for her sin, but she cannot forget the memory of her illegitimate son, who was taken from her seven years ago. The Princess at first refuses to speak, but finally informs Sister Angelica that her son died of fever two years ago. Sister Angelica, devastated, signs the document and collapses in tears. The Princess leaves.

In her despair Sister Angelica is seized by a heavenly vision – she believes she hears her son calling for her to meet him in paradise. She makes a poison and drinks it, but realizes that in committing suicide, she has committed a mortal sin and has damned herself to eternal separation from her son. She begs the Virgin Mary for mercy and, as she dies, she sees a miracle: the Virgin Mary appears, along with Sister Angelica’s son, who runs to embrace her.