Opera has given us some dubious mothers, but some pretty incredible ones too.
Today we are listening to “Senza Mamma” from Puccini’s one-act opera Suor Angelica. The beauty of Suor Angelica is that it is short and to the point. The plot is simple, and the music has beautiful singable melodies.
Sister Angelica, the daughter of a Florentine family, was sent to a convent after giving birth to an illegitimate child. On the day the opera takes place, Angelica’s Aunt, the Princess, arrives to get Angelica’s signature on documents for the marriage of her younger sister. But Angelica demands news of her son and she is told that two years prior he was sick and died.
Angelica is devastated. After the Princess leaves, she sings “Senza Mamma” (“Without your mother”), in which she imagines her child dying alone, without his mother. She sees him as an angel, able to come down and visit her. She feels his presence and asks him when she can die and join him in heaven.
Written late in Puccini’s career, Suor Angelica is the second one-act opera of Il Trittico (Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi are three one-act operas that are performed together). The goal with these three works was to express opera’s contrasting modes: the tragic, the lyrical, and the comedic.
Suor Angelica fulfills his “lyrical” requirement. It premiered at the Met in 1918.
🎧 Listening Example (4 minute listen): Soprano Renata Scotto singing “Senza Mamma” from Puccini’s one-act opera Suor Angelica.
Puccini was worth roughly $200 million dollars when he died. Like Rossini, he is considered one of the most commercially successful composers of all time.
Suor Angelica is Puccini’s only work written for only female voices. There are nine roles and six secondary characters, along with a large choir.
Il Trittico is an example of verismo opera, a movement in Italian opera raised at the end of the 19th century. It focuses more on real, everyday people and their stories.
Il Trittico is a set of three one-act operas by Giacomo Puccini that premiered in 1918.
The first opera, Il Tabarro, centers on an evening in the life of river workers on a barge in Paris’s Seine in the early 20th century.
The second opera, Suor Angelica, takes place entirely in a convent and features only female singers. It is set in the late 17th century and gives a glimpse into life of the convent sisters and how they manage their desires.
The final opera, Gianni Schicchi, is a comedy. Inspired by a passage in Chapter 30 of Dante’s Inferno, Gianni Schicchi, shows a world of two emotions: greed and love. Love may triumph, but desire keeps us amused.
Valley Opera & Performing Arts, in collaboration with Opera San Luis Obispo and Mission Opera, did a virtual production of Suor Angelica in March of 2021. The production was produced entirely virtually, with each singer and instrumentalist filming their individual part alone in their own home. You can watch it HERE.
Lina Vasta, a resident of Casa di Riposa (the long-term care facility Giuseppe Verdi built and endowed to retired musicians), sings “Senza Mamma”. She was 92 years old at the time of recording.
Thank you for reading (and listening),
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