It’s a rare day when “Suor Angelica” overshadows “Gianni Schicchi,” but that is what happened on opening night (Friday, April 21st) in Lincoln Hall when Portland State University presented both Puccini one-act operas. Because of its serious subject matter and religious underpinnings, “Suor Angelica” is an extremely difficult opera to pull off unless you have a dynamite soprano with an incredibly expressive vocal range, plenty of power, and dramatic chops. Well, guess what, PSU has such a singer. Her name is Saori Erickson, and she delivered such a convincing performance in the title role that the audience was completely drawn into the orbit of her tragedy. “Gianni Schicchi,” a delightful comic opera, had its moments and a splendid cast, but it could not overcome the impression left by Erickson in “Suor Angelica.”
Erickson impressively commanded the stage all by herself at the end of the opera, pushing her voice into fifth gear and reaching a deep level of passion and immediacy. Her voice was absolutely true, never overdriven. It just soared and was especially thrilling when Ken Selden pushed the orchestra to the max. Erickson was equally dramatic in her scene with accuser, the Princess, who was terrifically sung by Grace Skinner. Their confrontation in the courtyard of the cloister was intense and gripping.
The production boasted a bevy of fine singers in supporting roles, including Clair Patton as The Abbess, Kaitlyn Lawrence as The Monitress, Celine Adele Clair as The Mistress of the Novices, and sisters Sarah Hotz, Emily Lucas, Savannah Panah. Director Joshua Miller did an excellent job of shaping the personas of the sisters. They moved well about the stage set, designed by Carey Wong, which featured marble walls and columns, a fountain graced by a statue of the Virgin Mary, and the wild branches of a tree.
Selden and the PSU Orchestra sounded better than ever. The strings were especially radiant and expressive. The ensemble wonderfully expressed the emotive quality of the music and enhanced the drama.
Darian Hutchinson did a marvelous job as the lovable and opportunistic “Gianni Schicchi,” who uses his smarts to outmaneuver a shallow and greedy group of people who want a piece their dead relative’s fortune. The chaotic antics of folks scouring a dead man’s home in search of his well created a lot of hilarious moments. Shainy Manuel’s Zita with her frilly red underwear go the most laughs, but all of the singers delved into their characters with gusto.
Hope McCaffrey sang “O Mio babbino caro” superbly with a lovely tone and high notes that floated effortlessly. But that was just the high point of her performance, which embodied the role of Lauretta perfectly. Alex Trull cut a dashing Rinuccio, but his voice needed more volume to match up McCaffrey’s.
The orchestra seemed less polished in “Gianni Schicchi” and some of the singers could barely be heard. Wong’s set functioned well as the dead man’s home, but it was unfortunate that the bed was so far over to one side of the stage, because some of Hutchinson’s gestures and facial expressions were difficult to see. Of course, the tradeoff was that the big cast had more room to move about.
Back to Erickson – she is only 22 years old and seems to have a big future ahead of her. She sang outstandingly as Rosalinda in PSU Opera’s production of “Die Fledermaus” last year. But she has stepped up her game even further with “Suor Angelica.” If you haven’t seen it, the remaining performances are April 25, 28, 29, and 30.