REVIEW: Suor Angelica

If you never attended an Opera because you think you wouldn’t understand it, then attending Out of the Box’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s Suor Angelica is the best introduction to this fine art. And what better venue than the grand historical Basilica of St Mary, in downtown Minneapolis, to host an opera about a nun. The grandeur and acoustics of the basilica elevate the production, making it a memorable evening for opera enthusiasts and newcomers like me alike.

Upon arrival, patrons were given a program in the form of a bookmark with QR codes. Each code unveiled a brief synopsis of each act or part as it is referred to; The Cloister, The Chapel, and The Nave.

The problem with the QR codes, what if you didn’t bring your phone? Even if you did, aren’t you supposed to turn off your phone during performances? There was no program alternative. In keeping with the venue, having something akin to a hymnal, with written overview as well as lyric translation would have been helpful. I would suggest attendees research this opera before the performance in order to understand it more clearly.

What made this performance so unique and vastly different from typical operas was each part was held in three separate locations within the Basilica. Patrons moved from room to room which added to the realistic feel of being part of the actual experience.

Part one, The Cloister, was in the lower level, where I imagine social hours are held after church.

Part two was in a central room that was quite small with a low ceiling adding to the intimacy of the heart wrenching exchange between the main characters. The low ceiling only amplified the stunning voices of the singers. Part three, and final location was held in the stunning, grandeur church.

From the moment the orchestra struck the first note, the audience was enveloped in Puccini’s lush, emotional score. Led by the skilled conductor, Steven Hargreaves, the orchestra delivered a performance that was both powerful and nuanced, perfectly complementing the vocalists on stage.

Costumes were period-appropriate and added to the authenticity of the production. The simple yet elegant habits worn by the nuns contrasted starkly with the luxurious dress of the Princess, emphasizing the themes of sacrifice and renunciation central to the opera.

The titular role of Suor Angelica was masterfully portrayed by Alexandra Loutsian, whose rich, expressive voice captured the depth of Angelica’s sorrow and longing. Her aria “Senza mamma” was a standout moment, leaving many in the audience visibly moved. The emotional intensity and technical precision she brought to the role were truly remarkable.

Supporting her was a talented cast of nuns, each bringing their character to life with distinct personalities and vocal prowess. The ensemble work was tight and harmonious, adding to the immersive experience of the opera. Another standout was the performance of Alice Chung as Angelica’s aunt, the Princess. Together, in the small enclosed room, Alexandra and Alice’s exchange was powerful and brought chills to the audience.

One of the most striking aspects of the performance was the emotional connection between the performers and the audience. The intimate setting of the basilica, combined with the powerful storytelling and music, created a deeply moving experience. The final scene, in particular, held a big surprise that was profoundly affecting, leaving the audience in contemplative silence, and me in tears, before the applause erupted. I was completely overwhelmed with emotion.

In summary, I highly recommend seeing this performance. If you have been intimidated by going to an opera and have never attended before, this is the perfect introduction. What an amazing production.

Suor Angelica runs for a limited time only, through June 29, 2024. Click here for tickets.

Review by Debby Kwong