Pillbox

Opera combines sinners and saints

The second half of the School of Music’s performance featured _Mahagonny-Songspiel_, a small-scale cantata written by dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill in 1927.  (credit: Celia Ludwinski/Operations Manager) The second half of the School of Music’s performance featured _Mahagonny-Songspiel_, a small-scale cantata written by dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill in 1927. (credit: Celia Ludwinski/Operations Manager)

Nuns and gamblers alike graced Chosky Theater this weekend in the School of Music’s production of Sacred and Profane. Appropriately named, this production featured two one-act operas: Giacomo Puccini’s Suor Angelica, which depicts a nun with a questionable past living in a 17th-century convent, and Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s Mahagonny-Songspiel, the story of six characters who attempt to find happiness by creating a society shaped by their carefree desires.

In Puccini’s opera, graduate vocal performance student Nicole Marie Gasse sang the part of Sister Angelica, a nun who gives birth to an illegitimate son before joining a convent. The plot thickens when her aunt, a princess played by senior voice major Gillian Hassert, visits the convent to speak with Angelica regarding distribution of the family fortune. Gasse and Hassert stole the show on opening night. Hassert’s character is intended to be powerful and intimidating on stage, and her overall performance and presence certainly matched Puccini’s intentions. Gasse’s voice was chill-inducing in Angelica’s final aria, which did not disappoint as the first opera came to a close.

After intermission, the audience returned to a society of common and comparatively vulgar characters in Mahagonny-Songspiel. Originally intended to be a full-length opera, the production features a libretto by Bertolt Brecht. Brecht strives to draw the audience’s focus to his critical perspective of human nature by intentionally leaving much of the plot and character development up to the director’s interpretation. Thus, Weill’s music and the fact that there are six major characters are often the only consistencies from production to production.

One of the liberties taken in this particular production was the director’s choice to add a narrator, played by senior voice major Piers Portfolio on opening night. The narrator begins the opera by introducing the six characters with a short monologue. Each of the characters are attempting to get to the city of Mahagonny, where residents are free to do as they please. As the plot unfolds, the characters come to the realization that happiness and desires should not be sought after so thoughtlessly.

The narrator tied the plot together and helped shed some light on the opera’s character development for the audience. Portfolio gave an entertaining performance, demanding the audience’s attention from the beginning and acting as the bridge between the audience and the characters on stage.

Mahagonny-Songspiel also featured the talents of senior voice majors Caitlan Pitts, Katherine Brandt, Sean Pack, Martin Schreiner, Tyler Alderson, and Jesse Soracco, all of whom gave strong performances in this thought-provoking opera.

In addition to the individual performances, the production quality of both operas was impressive. The set design was effective and aesthetically pleasing without being distracting or overdone. Blocking for the chorus in the Puccini opera was creative and impressive, especially considering the size of the cast. Lighting for Suor Angelica was well done, including a slight tilt of a suspended window frame to affect the direction of the light coming from backstage. Overall, Sacred and Profane was a fantastic show from the School of Music, setting high expectations for future productions.