Opera Santa Barbara wrapped up its season with a double billing, performing two one-act plays by famed composer Giacomo Puccini. The night began with Suor Angelica, one of the few all female operas and a somber exploration of regret and love through the tale of a nun. It was then juxtaposed with Gianni Schicchi, a riotous comedy illustrating the squabbles of a wealthy Florentine family fighting over their inheritances.
The opening opera Suor Angelica is a somber tale about a nun, Sister Angelica, forced to take up the veil for sins from a mysterious past. Reserved, she masks the pain of not knowing the fate of a son she left behind until the arrival of her aunt. Alissa Anderson, who plays the aunt, was one of the highlights of the performance; her acting conveyed not just the emotional distance of the aunt, but also the pain and regret hidden beneath her stern façade. This distance is contrasted heavily against the passionate and more open Sister Angelica, who begs her aunt to know about her son, creating a tension that engrossing the audience.
The following opera, Gianni Schicchi, was a large shift in tone, switching into a comedy. The story follows a squabbling and greedy family that is horrified to learn that they will not be receiving any inheritances from their recently deceased relative, and instead the fortune was left to the church. Before the body has even gone cold, this family calls upon the opera’s namesake to figure out a way to salvage their fortunes and rewrite the will.
University of California, Santa BArbara doctoral candidate and one of Opera Santa Barbara’s Mosher Studio Artists Molly Clementz was one of only two performers in both operas, playing Ciesca, a spoiled step-sister. Clementz revealed to The Bottom Line that she was told to “sound as entitled as you can” for the role, and channeled Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada to capture Ciesca essence. Her performance along with the rest of the ensemble made the performance hysterical, outrageously dramatic and full of hilarious gags, perfect for anyone who’s never experienced an opera before.
Both of Puccini’s operas are simple and create simple mysteries that intrigue the audience, from Sister Angelica’s past to the unknown plans of the mischievous Gianni Schicchi. But in the end, it is not the mystery of the stories that engrosses the audience, but the raw emotion of the characters, making these two of the most timeless works of music.
When asked why she felt Opera Santa Barbara was unique, Clementz noted how hard this company tries to make opera accessible, referencing the constant outreach the company does to educate elementary school students about opera, and their ongoing Pop Up Opera series. While opera may feel elusive to some, Opera Santa Barbara demonstrates how the music and themes within opera relate to all of us, from the regret in Suor Angelica to the greed in Gianni Schicci. As their tagline suggest, opera is simply “life…set to music.”