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The Notre Dame Opera shows versatility

Mary Kingsbury | Monday, April 11, 2005

This past weekend the Notre Dame Opera and the University of Notre Dame Music Department teamed up to offer a dynamically contrasting combination of drama. Encompassing both aspects of the Greek theatre masks, the Notre Dame Opera moved its audience from tears to mischievous laughter. Everything about the performance, from its charming scene design to its superb vocal depth, was at a level nothing short of professional. The opening Puccini opera “Suor Angelica,” is the only all-female opera composed to date. It includes a chorus and is the first opera Notre Dame has ever performed in Italian. The English translation was provided in supertitles. Rebecca Paul brilliantly mastered the role of Sister Angelica, a 17th-century nun who has been forced into a convent by her relatives for having a baby out of wedlock. As the plot develops, Sister Angelica blossoms into a saintly, selfless woman – a favorite among her fellow nuns. With characters varying from the decrepit old abbess (Katy Nichols) to a chubby social butterfly (Mary Willoughby), the atmosphere of the convent provided comic relief to an intense plot. The cheerful environment of the convent is shattered midway through the act, when Sister Angelica’s scheming aunt appears with news of the death of Angelica’s son. Holding a striking resemblance to Ezma from Disney’s “The Emperor’s New Groove,” Mary Waltner’s villainous performance led to the climax of the opera. Distraught by the news of her son’s death, Angelica poisons herself. Immediately regretting her sinful action, Sister Angelica pleads to the Virgin Mary to intercede for her forgiveness. Rebecca Paul’s moving interpretation of a mother’s virtuous longing for her child juxtaposed with the gravity of mortal sin yielded much acclaim from the audience. The opera concludes with the Virgin (Jamie Pilloni) and son (Giovanni Stroik) appearing as a sign of God’s forgiveness. Sister Angelica dies peacefully, envisioning herself in heaven holding her beloved child. As the orchestra faded, everyone in the house held their breath in a moment of awe, followed by thunderous applause and standing ovation. A 20-minute intermission followed, allowing the performers and the audience to change gears from the tender “Suor Angelica” to the racy “Mamelle de Tirésias.” To start the second half with a splash, Rebecca Paul reclaimed the stage, this time wearing horns and dragging a mortified Nicholas Tonazzi fully clad in loincloth and a cape. A spoof on a Wagner opera, the disappointed diva leaves the stage when the conductor shows her that the composer of this score is Poulenc. His “Mamelles de Tirésias” (The Breasts of Tirèsias) is subtitled an “opera buffa in a prologue and two acts” (libretto by Apollinaire). The score is sensuous, mysterious, insinuating and at times has a very cabaret-like feel. This opera was performed in English, which worked well to convey its humor.A bit risqué, but utterly hilarious, the cast of “Mamelles de Tirésias” completely captivated their audience with anticipation of what could possibly come next. The prologue set the stage with Michael Shaw, in the role of the Director, wearing nothing but lingerie from the waist down and dancing with a whip. Lauren Price (Therese) and Paul Appleby (le Mari) opened the act in a lover’s spat. The character Therese (Price), in protest to her husband’s continuous plea for sex, proceeds to unzip her blouse and pop her oversized breasts (two large latex balloons) and grow a beard. A complete gender reversal occurs when le Mari (Appleby) embraces motherhood by birthing 40,000 children in hopes to repopulate the town of Zanzibar. The fanciful plot encompassed everything from Gabriel Torres and Nicholas Tonozzi parading around the stage on roller-skates to Eric Petrucci dancing around in a diaper as one le Mari’s newborns. At one point vocal music professors Georgine Resick, Joan Troyer and John Riley-Schofield chimed in from the audience, and the cast united to proclaim the lesson of war: make love and multiply. To finish off the evening, a cascade of latex balloons drop from the ceiling, symbolic of the return of Therese’s breasts, “Les Mamelles de Tiresias.”