Review: SUOR ANGELICA and GIANNI SCHICCHI at Artscape Celebrates Comedy and Tragedy in Puccini's Operas

This production comprises a double bill of operas by Giacomo Puccini.

By: Feb. 18, 2024
Review: SUOR ANGELICA and GIANNI SCHICCHI at Artscape Celebrates Comedy and Tragedy in Puccini's Operas
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Cape Town Opera presents a Puccini double-bill of operas: SUOR ANGELICA and GIANNI SCHICCHI. Each opera runs for just under an hour, with an interval in between.

The two operas are vastly different – SUOR ANGELICA, despite containing comedic moments, is ultimately tragic. GIANNI SCHICCHI, on the other hand, is a comedy through and through. While each opera showcases excellent talent, GIANNI SCHICCHI was, by far, my favourite of the two. I’ll discuss each separately.

First, SUOR ANGELICA. Besides for some stylistic choices that don’t quite work for me, the piece is superb. The curtains open to reveal the outside of a convent. Allegra Bernaccioni’s set is impressive but it remains void of any cast members for a while after opening. While this is clearly a deliberate choice, the audience is left stranded for a little too long. This slow start means that it takes time for the energy to build once the performers appear onstage. The pacing continued to be an issue for me throughout SUOR ANGELICA; however, as the opera moves towards its climax, this vastly improves.

The story is sad: Sister Angelica’s family confines her to a nunnery after she has a child out of wedlock. A visit by her aunt, the Princess, ultimately results in tragedy. Nobulumko Mxgxekeza in the titular role of Sister Angelica is fantastic – she captures the vivaciousness and cheekiness of the young nun while excellently exploring the shadow side of the character. Mxgxekeza’s range of emotions is convincing and her performance in her arias is phenomenal. I hope to see Mxgxekeza in many more operas.

The rest of the cast is equally strong and I really enjoyed the personality of the nuns which provided some comedic relief throughout the first half of SUOR ANGELICA.

The energy really picked up in the latter part of this opera and the final scene is magnificent. Members of the Cape Town Children’s Choir stand in a line, each holding orbs, depicting children in heaven. It is beautiful and ethereal, and their young, clear voices are a magnificent end to this stirring production.

Review: SUOR ANGELICA and GIANNI SCHICCHI at Artscape Celebrates Comedy and Tragedy in Puccini's Operas

I adored every minute of GIANNI SCHICCHI, the second opera of the night. This hilariously entertaining piece starts with a bang (or rather, with a body) and the energy continues to soar until the very end. The story here is a lot lighter and the opera itself is a lot more colourful (literally and figuratively). After the death of the wealthy Buoso Donati, his gold-digging family members recruit the deceased’s clever friend, Gianni Schicchi to secure the former’s fortune for themselves after it has been left to the church.

This show is led by a powerhouse of performers, who are not only singers of the highest quality but who also possess fantastic comedic timing. I laughed out loud from start to finish, watching Donati’s greedy relatives literally trip over themselves in an attempt to secure the deceased’s estate for themselves.

Let me be clear: every single cast member deserves a mention here – this is the epitome of an ensemble cast. However, I will mention a few in the interests of time. Conroy Scott as Gianni Schicchi is exquisite. Most recently I saw him in more serious roles in both THE PEARL FISHERS and LA TRAVIATA. He proves himself as a truly versatile performer here by playing the arrogant but alluring Schicchi with aplomb and lots of laughs. I loved watching him.

Dineo Bokala as Schicchi’s daughter, Lauretta, has a gorgeous soprano and tackles the main aria 'O Mio Babbino Caro' deftly and received well-deserved, thunderous applause in return. She is certainly one to watch. Lukhanyo Moyake as Rinuccio, the deceased’s nephew and Lauretta’s love interest, is equally excellent and makes a lovely, endearing and opportunistic Rinuccio. Julia Portela Piñón as Zita, Busisiwe Ngejane as Nella, and Asisipho Petu as La Ciesca are absolutely hilarious and are all highlights for me. The same can be said for Lonwabo Mose as Simone, Luvo Rasemeni as Betto, Jason Atherton as Gherardo, and Lwazi Dlamini as Marco. Young Chloe Theron as Gherardina and Oliver Alie as Gherardino are adorable as the precocious grandchildren of the deceased. Both are treats to watch.

Exquisite costumes and a fun, colourful set evoke an almost Wes-Anderson-esque atmosphere. Kudos to Allegra Bernacchioni for her fun and funky costume design and for her fresh set design. Faheem Bardien’s lighting is, as always, inspired and Fiona du Plooy’s direction of movement makes this opera easily accessible to the audience: it melts away any stiffness that is sometimes associated with opera and crafts, fluid, vibrant movement that add to the performers’ characterisation.

Director Magdalene Minaar can be proud of this superb, well-crafted and varied double bill which showcases superb talent.

Last but not least, the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra led by the fabulous Jeremy Silver is, as always, flawless and takes the production to a level that only live music can. It is always an honour to listen to musicians of this calibre.

SUOR ANGELICA and GIANNI SCHICCHI run at the Artscape Opera House from 14 to 17 February 2024 with performances at 18:00 and 19:00. Tickets range from R190 to R550 and are available via Webtickets and Artscape Dial-A-Seat on 0214217695.

Photo credit: Danie Coetzee