Toward the end of his life, following such successful, full-scale operas as “La Boheme,” “Tosca,” “Madama Butterfly” and others, Italian composer Giacomo Puccini tried his hand at one-acts. He wrote three between 1916 and 1918.
Though they are sometimes performed together as “Il Tritico” (The Triptych or Trilogy), it has become customary in recent years for opera companies to perform just two in one staging.
This is what Loyola Opera Theatre will be doing when it presents Puccini’s “Suor Angelica” and “Gianni Schicchi” on Jan. 23 and 25 at Loyola’s Louis J. Roussel Performance Hall.
“Suor Angelica” (Sister Angelica) is the tragic story of a nun who commits suicide after learning of the death of her illegitimate son who was taken from her at birth.
“Gianni Schicchi,” named after the title character, is a comedy about greed and backstabbing by members of a family trying to cash in on the wealth of a recently deceased relative.
Many of the roles in the Loyola production are double-cast, including the title role in “Suor Angelica,” with Annie Halbert in the Friday evening performance and Emily Barber in the Sunday matinee. Kenneth Weber sings the title role in both performances of “Gianni Schicchi.”
Most of the cast members are Loyola music students or recent graduates.
Veronica Sharkey, a 2014 Masters in Music graduate from Loyola, sings the supporting role of the Principessa (princess) who is Sister Angelica’s aunt, in the Friday night performance. A mezzo-soprano, Sharkey also sings in “Gianni Schicchi” as Zita, one of the family members, in the Sunday afternoon production.
“These two roles I’m doing are very different,” Sharkey explained. “The Principessa is very concerned with the stature and reputation of her family. She’s determined to preserve the integrity of the family as it relates to society.
“On the other hand, Zita is just greedy,” Sharkey added. “She wants everything she can get from her dead relative. And the whole family is really like that. ‘Angelica’ is a tragedy and ‘Schicchi’ is a comedy, so in one I’m very serious and in the other there’s a lot of laughs and a lot of really silly things going on.”
Sharkey’s character in “Suor Angelica” is the one who breaks the news to her niece about her son’s death. The Principessa’s aria, “Nel silenzio” (In the silence), is one of the two major solos in the opera. The other is “Senza Mamma” (Without your mother), sung by Sister Angelica as an ode to her son soon after hearing about his passing.
Weber, a bass-baritone who directs liturgy and music for Loyola’s Office of Mission and Ministry, is no stranger to the “Gianni Schicchi” libretto, having sung the role of Betto di Signa, one of the relatives in a 2007 New Orleans Opera production of the full “Il Tritico” one-acts.
Moving up to the title role in this production, Weber said, “It’s a lot of fun, and I appreciate the opportunity to work with the students on this.”
Weber also had words of praise for stage director Bill Fabris. “I’ve worked with him many times, so he and I know how to communicate,” he said. “Bill gives me free rein to be creative with character development and staging, so there’s a lot of flexibility.”
Other major performers in “Gianni Schicchi” are Lauretta, his daughter, sung by Amanda McCarthy on Friday and Jade Coates on Sunday, and Rinuccio, Zita’s nephew and Lauretta’s fiancée, sung by Dennis Shuman on Friday and Kameron Lopreore on Sunday.
The opera’s signature aria is “O mio babbino caro” (Oh, my dear father) sung by Lauretta.
Carol Rausch, director of Loyola Opera Theatre, will serve as musical director and conductor for both of the operas.
Performers will sing in Italian with English translations superimposed above the stage — a first in a Loyola Opera production.