Puccini: Suor Angelica
St Botolph’s Church, Bishopsgate. 13 July 2017
LunchBreak Opera is a new venture, launched earlier this year. Its first production was Puccini’s one-act opera Suor Angelica, given in nine fully staged and costumed lunchtime and early evening performances (10-14 July) in St Botolph’s Church, Bishopsgate, London – a prime position, next to Liverpool Street Station. Lasting just 50 minutes it is ideal for lunchtime and post-work entertainment.
I am told that there is a bit of problem in London with hoards of young female lunchtime and after-work drinkers. Perhaps, on the possibly mistaken assumption that at least some of them might be singers, this could be seen as an effective way of getting them off the streets. There are with roles for 16 women, with the role of Angelica dual-cast. Most of the singers were current, or recent, students of top-level music conservatoires. The key role is that of Angelica, on this occasions sung by the American soprano Alexandria Wreggelsworth (pictured – her role partner was Demelza Stafford), currently studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drame. It is a powerful role, demanding outstanding singing and acting skills, both of which were displayed well. The extended sequence of final scenes were gripping, with the Principessa (New Zealand born Christie Cook) also making an imposing appearance.
Director Imogen Smalley made very good use of the space of the church, an ideal venue, of course, for Suor Angelica. A bevy of Alms Sisters, Lay Sisters and Novices swept the church floor and the pews, while a small altar to one side acted as a focus for Angelica’s devotions. A considerable amount of sweeping up was needed after the performance, such was the drama of the final scenes. Singers appeared on the side and rear galleries, and in the side aisles and chapels. One thing that I did appreciate was that, despite obviously studying for several years in a teaching environment that tends to force young singers into developing big ‘opera voices’, excessive vibrato was not really an issue for most of the singers. It was usually impossible to pick out individual voices, but there were several very promising sounds coming from some of the supporting cast.
Without access to, or space for, the enormous symphony orchestra that Puccini intended, the score was reduced down to a string quintet, harp and percussion. There was a key role for organist, Magdalena Jones (also currently a student), with the difficult task of providing all the sounds and colours that the band couldn’t (on a little electronic organ), as well as balancing the sound between the instrumentalists at the high altar end of the church and the singers arrayed around the rest of the church, making a very impressive contribution to the success of the accompaniment. Incidentally, I thought it was a curious breach of normal concert etiquette that the musical director did not acknowledge Magdalena Jones during the final applause, so I am happy to name her, but not him.
As is usual with London lunchtime concerts, admission was free, although there was a plea for donations of at least £10 afterwards – rather a lot in comparison to other lunchtime events, but this was an opera involving nearly 30 people.