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This Italian opera has dark parallels to a time in Ireland's past

We speak to the director of this opera about what to expect.

THE STORY OF Suor Angelica is a tragic one: that of a young woman sent to live in a nunnery, away from her family, and yearning for news about a special person from her past.

This one-act opera by Puccini is going to be explored next week as part of the RIAM/The Lir Opera Briefs series, with talented young singers inhabiting the roles, and the lauded young Irish director Tom Creed at the helm.

IMG_9559 Director Tom Creed Source: Frances Marshall

“It’s rare among opera works in that it’s a short opera that has an all-female cast,” Creed told TheJournal.ie.

“The cast of 16 young women, all of them were people looking to have an opportunity to perform.”

Suor Angelica was first performed in 1918, as part of a triptych of three short operas by Puccini, which he wrote to be performed in one evening. Though the stage directions suggest it was set in the 17th century, Creed has chosen to set it in more modern times.

Here, he tells us more about we can expect from the opera:

IMG_9322 Suor Angelica, played by Rebecca Rodgers Source: Frances Marshall

“The story of Suor Angelica is the story of a young woman called Angelica who is in a convent, she’s been there for seven years. And we discover as the piece goes on that she was put there by her family.”

“And without giving away all the spoilers, we discover that she had a child which was taken away from her when the child was born, and she’s been waiting in the convent for news from her family ever since.”

IMG_0324 Carolyn Holt as The Princess Source: Frances Marshall

“And no news has come. Until today, when a visitor arrives in the convent, with maybe not the news that she has been expecting.”

“For me, this story of a woman in a convent, having had her child taken from her, and longing for news of the child, obviously has particular resonance with Irish stories that we’ve been hearing over the past decades.”

“And the story of women who were separated from their children in this way who often found themselves in convents as Magdalene women.”

IMG_9390 In rehearsal Source: Frances Marshall

“I think I’m excited by opera as something which is live and in the moment and with so many great opportunities for storytelling, but also for us to look at ourselves and think about ourselves as a society.”

“We thought we would try and present it in as close in space and time to our experience. It felt to us an interesting moment would be the beginning of the 1980s, around the time of the 8th amendment to the Constitution, around the time a woman called Anne Lovett died giving birth at a grotto on her own…

NO FEE 576 Puccini's Suor Angelica copy Rebecca Rodgers as Sr Angelica (white costume) and Carla Snow as The Abbess (Black Costume) Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

“[We thought] that this story of a woman in a convent longing for her child would sit interestingly in this period, and that it would be something that the audience would recognise, that it might connect with stories from the audience’s own lives or stories that they know.”

“And also for these women in the Ireland of 2015 to put themselves in the space of the generation that was the generation of their mothers, and to imagine how the lives of their parents might have turned out differently.”

NO FEE 253 Puccini's Suor Angelica copy Source: graphy: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

“There are lines that are sung in Suor Angelica which feel that they are literally quotes from those [Magdalene] women. They are literally things that feel like they have been lifted out of the mouths of those women talking about their experiences in Ireland in the Magdalene laundries.”

“The description of the punishments doled out in the laundry, the testament to the women desperately holding out for news of their children.”

NO FEE 504 Puccini's Suor Angelica copy Source: graphy: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

A love of opera

Creed discovered musical theatre in his teens, which he says “set me off on a particular journey”.

About five years ago, he began to deepen his knowledge of opera, including taking a directing course at the Royal Opera House in London.

He’s working on new opera projects due to open in Belgium and Canada later this year, and has also joined the Opera Theatre Company, Ireland’s touring opera company.

IMG_9762 Source: Frances Marshall

For me, there’s something about the combination of music and singing and storytelling and staging which can add up to something very powerful. I’ve had some of the worst theatre experiences I’ve ever had at the opera, where I think the theatrical values sometimes are secondary to the musical values. But I’ve also had some of the best theatrical experiences I’ve ever had in the opera house.

Some, said Creed, accuse opera of being “irrelevant, old fashioned”, but to him, it: “provides the opportunity for us to have a really strong engagement with stories and ideas. By recasting older works in the light of what we know about the present, I think we can learn something about ourselves and where we have come from.”

Suor Angelica, directed by Tom Creed and conducted by Andrew Synnott, with the Lir Academy will run at the Abbey Theatre from 3- 7 March. Tickets are from €15-€20/€12-€18 concession. Find out more at the Abbey Theatre website.

Read: Thought opera was elitist? These shows could change your mind>

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