PUCCINI Suor Angelica
Separate recordings of Suor Angelica outside the trilogy of Il trittico are few and far between. Generally regarded as the least popular of the three operas, it turns up when a star soprano wants to record the title-role, as Joan Sutherland did under Richard Bonynge in 1978. Coincidentally, this new recording from Orfeo also features a husband-and-wife team in the Latvian duo of Kristı¯ne Opolais and Andris Nelsons. They gave concert performances of the opera in Cologne in May 2011 but the recording dates – six days that month, plus further sessions in October – leave it unclear whether this disc is taken from the live concerts or not.
Either way, the performance sounds fully involved. Opolais’s singing immediately brings into the mind’s eye a vulnerable young woman in the way that Sutherland in her fifties could not. Her bright soprano, with its surface sparkle, vividly portrays the intense feelings of Sister Angelica, a sharp edge sometimes coming to the fore when the character is under pressure. Lioba Braun has the right dark, forceful mezzo for the Princess, though it is good to be reminded how subtly Christa Ludwig built the tension of the scene for Bonynge. The other nuns are well taken, with Mojca Erdmann an affecting Sister Genovieffa, albeit rather similar in tone to Opolais. Nelsons paces the opera fluidly and the orchestral balance is close, making Puccini’s colours come over strongly. It would have been good to have some native Italian singers among the cast but otherwise this is a clear recommendation if a single disc is wanted. Of course, for a larger outlay you can have all three operas of Il trittico in Opus Arte’s live DVD set from Covent Garden, where there is a staging of Suor Angelica that will bring tears to your eyes.