A double bill from OperaVision’s most easterly partner, New National Theatre Tokyo. Puccini’s Suor Angelica concerns the power of a mother’s love and the devastation of losing a child. The second half of our evening sweeps away all sentimental drama, and there opens the world of a teapot dancing the foxtrot with a Chinese cup, an armchair courting a Louis XV chair, objects and animals joining forces against a naughty child. This is the world of L'Enfant et les sortilèges, the ‘fantaisie lyrique’ by Ravel.
In little under an hour, Puccini’s Suor Angelica demonstrates how music can stir our most profound emotions. A group of nuns discuss their desires, but Sister Angelica claims that she has never truly desired anything. This is a lie, because every single day since arriving at the convent, she has longed for her son, who was taken from her. When her aunt informs her that the little boy died several years ago, Angelica’s world collapses. First performed in New York in 1918, Suor Angelica shows Puccini at ease with the religious music of his ancestors but also in writing music with an electric dramatic charge - such as that of the meeting between Sister Angelica and her glacial aunt.
In 1914, the director of the Paris Opera, Jacques Rouché, commissioned a libretto of L'Enfant et les sortilèges from the writer Colette, who wrote it in 1916. After numerous exchanges between Colette and Ravel, the project gradually took shape, albeit very slowly. It was not until 1924 that Ravel really began composing the work, completing it only five days before the premiere. This finely orchestrated musical gem shows the composer’s taste for humour, childhood poetry and animals – an affection he shared with Colette, particularly for cats!
Two operas seem to be from two completely different worlds. As director Jun Aguni describes below ‘they however have common factors, such as insight into human nature and the fact that they make us reflect about our world today. Feel free to interpret them as you wish and enjoy.’
Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra
New National Theatre Chorus
Setagaya Junior Chorus
Children Chorus Master
La zia principessa
La suora zelatrice
La maestra delle novizie
La suora infermiera
L’Enfant et les Sortilèges
The Armchair / A Tree
The Shepherdess / A Pastourelle / The Owl /The Bat
The Comtoise Clock / The Cat
The Chinese Cup / The Dragonfly
The Fire / The Princess / The Nightingale
A Shepherd / The cat / The Squirrel
The Teapot 'Wedgwood black'
The Little Old Man / The Tree Frog
The action takes place in a convent near Siena. Suor Angelica was banished to a convent after bearing an illegitimate child. She has not seen her family for seven years.
The sisters emerge from the chapel, going about their daily routine. Sister Genovieffa rejoices in it being the first of three evenings in the year when the sunset light strikes the fountain, turning its water golden.
The nuns begin to discuss their own desires, but Suor Angelica claims to have none. However, the sisters gossip, knowing that Angelica’s greatest wish is to hear from her family, but are interrupted when the Infirmary Sister enters, asking Angelica to help with a herbal remedy for wasp stings. A grand coach is sighted outside and the Abbess announces the visitor, Angelica’s aunt, the princess.
Alone, the Princess explains that Angelica’s sister is to be married and that Angelica needs to sign a document renouncing her inheritance. Angelica asks after her child, but is coldly told that the boy died of a fever two years earlier. Devastated, Angelica signs the document. Her aunt leaves.
Angelica grieves that her child died without his mother by his side (‘Senza mamma’) and decides to take her own life by drinking a poison she has concocted from flowers from the convent garden. After drinking it, she realises she has committed a mortal sin, damned from being reunited with her son. She begs the Virgin Mary for forgiveness and, as she dies, a miracle produces a vision of her child, greeting her from heaven.
L’Enfant et les Sortilèges
A Child grumbles over his homework and is punished by his Mother, fed dry bread and tea without sugar. He angrily takes it out on the animals and objects around him in a temper tantrum, knocking the teapot and china cup off the table and pricking the caged squirrel with his pen nib, poking the fire, tearing up his books and vandalising the wallpaper. To his shock, his room comes alive and the objects revolt against him: the armchair and bergère celebrate being rid of him; the Grandfather Clock mourns its broken pendulum; teapot and china cup dance a foxtrot; Fire licks and darts towards him. Shepherds on the wallpaper lament their torn pastoral scene, a Princess rises from the pages of the mutilated storybook, and a little old man – Arithmetic – terrorises him. Two cats appear and the Child follows them into the garden. It is night.
The Child is happy to hear insects and frogs and the hoot of an owl, but a Tree groans, bleeding sap from the knife wound the Child inflicted earlier that day. The animals shun him and, in his despair, he calls for his Mother (‘Maman!’). In a desire for revenge, they throw themselves on the Child. During the tussle, a squirrel is injured. The Child bandages its paw and collapses. Witnessing this act of kindness, the animals are moved and carry him back to the house. A light goes on and the animals withdraw as the Child, holding out his arms, calls ‘Maman!’