Cape Town Opera’s Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi 

When: February 14 to 17, 2024
Where: Artscape Opera House
Tickets: R190- R550 through Webtickets and Artscape Dial-A-Seat on 0214217695
Director: Magdalene Minnaar
Set and costume design: Allegra Bernacchioni
Movement direction: Fiona du Plooy
Lighting design: Faheem Bardien
Orchestra: The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra will be conducted by Jeremy Silver 
Running time: Each opera is about 55 minutes- with a 20 minute interval    

Tragic, heartbreakingly sad and unfair – this is Puccini’s Suor Angelica. Hilarious and fun- this is Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. The short one-act operas are from Puccini’s Il trittico (The Triptych): Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi. The Triptych premiered in 1918 at the Metropolitan Opera. Puccini’s intention was that the operas would be presented as a threesome. However, from the beginning, the crowd pleaser was Gianni Schicchi and it became Puccini’s favourite. He then gave permission for the triptych to be broken up. Gianni is a madcap comedy in which just about everyone behaves badly a nd gets away with it. For this season, Cape Town Opera has selected two of the operas from the Triptych – Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi. The double bill opened last night (Wednesday February 14) and is on until Saturday -February 17. This is breathtakingly fabulous opera – not to be missed.

I loved, madly loved, Gianni Schicchi. Suor Angelica is not exactly light fare but it is outstanding with Cape Town Opera House Soloist, the extraordinary Nobulumko Mngxekeza as Sister Angelica. Angelica is banished to a convent, to do penance after having an illegitimate child. Repentance and forgiveness is overrated in this story – unless you believe in another life. The tragedy is given a lift by the appearance of the Cape Town Children’s Choir, at the end,  leading Angelica to some kind of  spiritual happiness and closure. Okay, we are talking metaphorically but it is a nice idea. Minnaar told me that the children usually sings off stage but she has brought them on stage for this production. Their appearance – light bearing jewels- transfigures the sadness as we smile at these beautiful young people and their glorious voices.

Gianni Schicchi pivots around a farcical plot. A peeved family is not impressed with being left out of the will of their relative, Buoso Donati. They engage Gianni Schicchi to impersonate the dead Donati, who has left everything to the monks. Gianni is based on a real life event in Florence in the 13th century. Dante used that in his Divine Comedy. Reality is stranger than fiction. The unprincipled relatives win. There is no penance and punishment in this story – unlike Suor Angelica.

The juxtaposition of these two opera’s is inspired – pitting the dark and tragic Suor Angelica with the hilarious comedy of Gianni Schicchi. The operas pivot on diametrically opposed morality bases – dark, shadowy Suor Angelica with a good person never losing faith but ultimately dying and the and vibrant and boisterous Gianni Schicchi, with people behaving badly and getting away with fraud.

This double bill is emblematic of the extraordinary range of Cape Town Opera – drilling down into the gravitas and repose of Suor Angelica and embracing the exuberance of Gianni Schicchi. There were rapturous ovations for both operas.

After the famous and rousing soprano aria, O mio babbino caro (“Oh my dear Papa”) in Gianni Schicchi, there was a screaming ovation. The Cape Town Philharmonic orchestra, under the baton of Jeremy Silver, paused for the applause to subside for Dineo Bokala as Lauretta who brought the house down with her aria tantrum. Conroy Scott is utterly delicious as her papa, Gianni Schicchi, the upwardly mobile outsider who nabs wealth social status – and keeps his daughter happy.

Director Magdalene Minnaar working with designer Allegra Bernacchioni, movement director, Fiona du Plooy and the rest of the creative team, create two magical operas – so different in story, tone and pace- dark and light – tragic and happy- but working together brilliantly. The sobriety and repose in Suor Angelica- sharp delineated angles; the reveal and conceal of shadows and chiaroscuro type light (wonderful lighting design by Faheem Bardeen) is in contrast to the animated and colourful Gianni Schicchi. Bernacchioni’s design is a triumph – the planes and pared down framing in Suor Angelica and the stacking and full-bodied Gianni Schicchi (even though one of the bodies is dead- dead but very much part of this production. Check out the heaped death bed, love it).

The comedy of Gianni Schicchi has been heightened with dazzling physical comedy, courtesy of movement director Fiona du Plooy. The singers lift each other up, dance, piggy back. The action is infused with cirque and slapstick and sight gags as the dead body becomes a leitmotif and running gag. It is a wow. The cast also bring their own riffs of improv and gestures.

After the opening performance, I  was raving to du Plooy and she mused how incredible the company is – not only do they nail the notes-  sing in Italian but deliver awesome theatrical charged physical comedy. I reckon that even if you are not an opera fan, you will love, love Gianni Schicchi. It is screamingly funny. The narrative is easy to follow through the excellent surtitles and cinema style headers introducing scenes. There are two adorable child singers in this opera who also get physically into the action.

This is a short season of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, so this is a quickie review. The entire company is treat – soloists, chorus. There is no time to name everyone but each singer is superb. Fabulous. Fabulous. Fabulous.

Young voices: The stunning Cape Town Opera Children’s Chorus in the final scene of Puccini’s Suor Angelica, presented as a double bill, by Cape Town Opera, February 2024. Pic by Danie Coetzee. Supplied.
Suor Angelica: Minette du Toit-Pearce as The Princess, with Cape Town Opera House Soloist, Nobulumko Mngxekeza as Sister Angelica in Cape Town Opera’s Puccini double bill, presented by Cape Town Opera, February 2024. The other opera is Gianni Schicchi. Pic by Danie Coetzee. Supplied.

✳ Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, performed by Cape Town Opera in a Puccini double bill. The other opera is Suor Angelica. Pic by Danie Coetzee. Supplied.