20 February 2024

National Opera's first 2024 production delivers a heart-wrenching, tragically timeless tale

| Dione David
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Emma Mauch at rehearsal for the title role in Suor Angelica, opposite co-star Sonia Anfiloff who plays La Zia Principessa

Emma Mauch is at rehearsal for the title role in Suor Angelica, opposite co-star Sonia Anfiloff, who plays La Zia Principessa. Photos: National Opera.

Her skill as a singer makes Emma Mauch a great choice for the title role in the National Opera’s first event for 2024, Suor Angelica – but her experiences as a mother and a midwife make her perfect.

Traditionally set in the 17th century, Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) is a woman who, after giving birth to a baby boy out of wedlock, is sent to a convent by her aunt, the matriarch of her wealthy Florentine family.

Seven years of atonement pass by, during which Angelica has no contact with her family or word of her son. But when her aunt suddenly arrives to ask Angelica to sign away her inheritance, Angelica seizes the opportunity to beg for news of her son and learns the tragic truth – her little boy had died two years earlier.

In her grief, Angelica is struck by a heavenly vision and believes she hears her son calling for her to meet him in paradise …

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Part of Giacomo Puccini’s Il trittico – a collection of three one-act operas comprising Il tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni SchicchiSuor Angelica is the ideal start to the National Opera’s 2024 season, appealing to a wide audience from newcomers looking for a low-commitment duration (one-hour) to aficionados looking to mark 100 years since the death of Puccini.

For Mauch, as a woman with three children and a midwife who has witnessed countless times the “emotional and vital moment of connection between a mother and baby at birth”, the performance is always an emotional experience.

“It’s stepping into a role at the receiving end of the worst-case scenario,” she says.

“It’s putting myself in the shoes of a woman who’s had that taken away, and then no communication at all, no agency or capacity to reach out and ask for any information about her son … I can understand why it became a kind of obsession for Angelica.

“She says, ‘Mio figlio (my son), this is the word I’ve invoked in my heart and prayers for seven years’. She has offered everything to this convent except this one thought – of her boy. She has spent seven years imagining what he looks like and living this whole imaginary life with him. Then, in a moment, her world is destroyed.”

While traditionally set in the 17th Century, Mauch says this is a timeless story that resonates as strongly today as ever.

“We still see women today, for one reason or another, having their babies and choices taken from them … And in Australia, we have this horrendous history of Aboriginal women having babies taken away,” she says.

“Part of my work as a midwife is supporting vulnerable women to stay connected to their babies, so this all hits home.”

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The production is created by local director Rachel Hogan, musical director Ella Luhtasaari and a cast of local opera singers accompanied by Canberra Sinfonia under the baton of Leonard Weiss.

Suor Angelica marketing director Katrina Wiseman says the direction to go with an all-local cast provided vital opportunities for artists of the nation’s capital.

“Opera Australia at the Sydney Opera House is seen as the go-to for opera, but we have a lot of professional singers right here, and as a company, we’re dedicated to providing these opportunities for local artists to develop and showcase their talents at home,” she says.

“National Opera is Canberra’s home of opera, and we hope to share these performances, with the stories, music and emotions that come with them, with the Canberra community.”

Suor Angelica comes to Albert Hall on Thursday, 7 March, from 6 pm to 7 pm and Sunday, 10 March, from 2 pm to 3 pm and 6 pm to 7 pm. Performances will be sung in Italian, accompanied by extensive English scene notes, followed by supper. Tickets cost $55 for adults, $45 for seniors and students and $10 for children under 16. Book here.

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