Italian libretto by Gioachino Forzano
English version by Edoardo Petri
Music by Giacomo Puccini


The action takes place in a convent in the latter part of the Seventeenth Century.

Interior of a convent. The little church and the cloister. In the background, beyond the right hand arcade, the cemetery; beyond the left hand arcade, the vegetable garden. In the middle of the stage, cypresses, a cross, grass and flowers. In rear and to the left, amongst the bushes, a spring, the spout of which falls into an earthen pile.

The curtain rises. A clear spring sunset. A ray of sunshine strikes above the spout on the fount. The stage is empty. The sisters are in the church, singing.
Two postulants, late for prayers, cross the stage. They pause an instant to listen to the chirping of the birds, coming from atop the cypresses, then enter the church.
Sister Angelica, also late, enters from right and moves towards the church. She opens the door, and makes the act of penance customary with late-comers (which was not done by the two postulants) that is to say, she kneels down and kisses the ground; then she closes the door. The sisters come out of the church two by two. The Abbess stops in front of the Cross. The sisters, as they file past the Abbesss, bow reverently. The Abbesss blesses them, then withdraws to the left.
The sisters remain together, forming, in small groups, a semi-circle. The Monitor comes forward to the center.
THE MONITOR (to the two postulants):
My sisters in the Lord
You missed one tridual day;
So did Sister Angelica
Who, however, did not forget to pray.
Instead, you both, my sisters,
Omitted a plain duty
And thus you both have lost one tridual day!
THE POSTULANTS: I own that I am guilty
And beg for a harsh penance!
Let it be in accord
With my base, foolish sin,
My sister in the Lord!
(They await their penance, while the Monitor remains absorbed in deep meditation.)
Late comers to church service
Must kneel and kiss the threshold.
THE MONITOR (to the postulants):
For twenty times repeat
Our usual mental prayer
For the slaves, for the needy,
For all men and all women
In need of absolution.
THE POSTULANTS: With joy and with true fervor!
Christ, Blessed Saviour,
And loving Spouse
Thee only will I serve
In life and in the hour
Of my last breath. Amen!
(They withdraw, full of compunction, under the right hand arcade.)
THE MONITOR (to Sister Lucilla):
You, Lucilla,to work now. Please withdraw
And observe strictest silence.
(Sister Lucilla goes under the arch on the right and taking down a spinning wheel, begins to spin.)
Because to-day at psalms
She caused outbursts of laughter!
THE MONITOR (to Sister Osmina):
Sister Osmina, in church
You had hidden to-day into your sleeves
A bunch of scarlet roses!
SISTER OSMINA (restive):
'Tis not so!
THE MONITOR (severely, but not harshly):
My sister, to your cell!
(Sister Osmina shrugs her shoulders.)
Do not tarry! The Virgin is there watching!
(Sister Osmina starts out without saying another word. The sisters follow her with their eyes until she disappears, and murmur: Regina virginum, ora pro ea, etc.)
THE MONITOR: And now, beloved sisters
Since that is our Lord's pleasure
And that we may
With more contentment
Return to work
To please our Master,
Relax and play!
(The white silhouettes of the sisters scatter through the cloister and beyond the arches. Sister Angelica is busy hoeing and watering the grass and flowers.)
Oh, my sisters! My sisters!
Since that is our Lord's way
I'm going now to tell you
That a bright, golden sun ray
As silent as a mouse
Has stealthily entered here.
See, there amongst the boughs!
So that we may now count
The first of our three evenings
Of the fair golden fount!
A FEW SISTERS: 'Tis true, within an instant
The water will be golden,
Resplendent as a fairy!
'Tis May! 'Tis May!
The smiling face of our beloved Mary
Comes to us with that sun ray.
Thou Queen who art so merciful, we thank thee!
A NOVICE: My teacher, with your leave
I wish to speak a word.
Provided it is in praise
Of matters holy and choice.
THE NOVICE: About what special grace
My sisters now rejoice?
A splendid, wondrous sign
Of God's unbounded mercy!
For three nights every year our Lord benign
When our work is all done,
Grants us the grace, as we return from prayers
To see the fount made golden by the sun!
THE NOVICE: And other evenings?
We leave either too soon in full daylight
Or much too late, long after shadows fall!
A FEW SISTERS (with great melancholy):
Another year has gone!....
Another year has gone!....
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
One sister dear is missing!....
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
(The sisters, absorbed in thought, seem to make an effort to bring back to their eyes the image of the dead sister.)
SISTER GENEVIEVE (suddenly, with simplicity and almost gaily):
My dear sisters, I propose
When the fount is all aglow
That we carry, in a row,
A few drops of golden water
On the tomb of Sister Rose.
THE SISTERS: Our dear friend, in her repose
Must be wishing that, for sure!
SISTER ANGELICA: Wishes are buds adorning living bodies
Never blooming where death holds her calm sway
Because the Virgin Mother's watchful eye
Is e'er fixed on her flock
Anticipating wishes from on high.
Before one lone desire is born in you,
The Mother of all Mothers makes it true!
Oh, my sister, we die to live anew!
THE MONITOR: We're not allowed
Even in life, to nurture vain desires.
SISTER GENEVIEVE: Even though light, and candid and unselfish?
Do you not ever wish for things?
ANOTHER SISTER: The same with me.
A NOVICE (timidly):
Nor I.
I will confess it now....
(with uplifted eyes):
Oh, sweetest Lord and Master,
You know I used to be
A shepherdess....
'Tis five years since I've seen a little lamb!
Oh, Lord, am I capricious
For wishing I might see
One lamb all white and small
To hold and hug a while
Its darling, fuzzy head
And hear its tender call?....
If wrong, I beg to offer
The “Miserere mei,”
Forgive me, oh Master
Thou who art “Agnus Dei.”
SISTER DOLCINA (rosy cheeked and rather stoutish):
I have a wish to make!
THE SISTERS: Oh, Sister, we all know
What are your fond desires!....
—Something real good to eat!
—Candy and the best of meat!
—A sin among the blackest!
(to the novices):
A gourmande! A gourmande!
(Sister Dolcina looks highly mortified and dejected.)
Angelica, do tell...
Have you had wishes, ever?
SISTER ANGELICA (turning towards the sisters):
I.... no.... my sister.... never....
(She again turns toward the flowers.)
THE SISTERS (grouping themselves on the side opposite to Sister Angelica, whispering):
Pray that Jesus forgive her!
She told a fearful lie!
She told a fearful lie!
A NOVICE (drawing near, full of curiosity):
A FEW SISTERS (in low tone):
Because we know!
She wishes more than ever
To hear what has become
Of all her kin and friends!
—'Tis over seven years
Since she entered here
And has not heard from home!
—She seems to be resigned,
In truth she pines away!
—She comes of wealthy family
So said our mother Abbess,
—She was noble!
—Rich and noble!
—Noble? She was a Princess!
—She had to make her vows
Forcibly.... and in punishment!
THE SISTER NURSE (rushing in, out of breath):
Oh Angelica, do help me!
SISTER ANGELICA: Oh, my sister, my dear nurse,
What has happened, do tell me!
THE SISTER NURSE: Sister Chiara, in the garden
Went on trimming a new rose-bush
When a swarm of frantic wasps
Stung her on the head!
She's bemoaning in her cell!
Her distress is hard to tell!
Do help her, beloved sister!
A FEW SISTERS: Oh, poor Chiara! Oh, poor Chiara!
SISTER ANGELICA: Wait, I have fine herbs and flowers!
(She rushes about in search of herbs and flowers.)
THE SISTER NURSE: Sister Angelica has always a good recipe made with flowers
She will find a blessed herb to sooth and cure the pain.
SISTER ANGELICA (to the Sister Nurse, handing her some herbs):
Now this herb is something fine!
Aromatic more than pine!
It will help, used as a lotion,
And with this you'll make a potion.
Please tell our dear sister
To drink it, although bitter
It will help her a whole lot....
And also please tell Chiara
That a sting in the main
Means just a little pain;
That if she laments
More severe will be her torments.
THE SISTER NURSE: Your directions I'll observe
Thanks, my dear sister, thanks!
SISTER ANGELICA: I am here, glad to serve.
(From rear, left, enter two Questuants leading a little donkey loaded with all sorts of things.)
THE QUESTUANTS: God bless the Virgin Mary!
ALL: Amen!
THE QUESTUANTS: Our quest has been successful
As all of you can see!
(The sisters crowd around the donkey; the Questuants unload, and turn the gifts over to the sister housekeeper.)
A QUESTUANT: Ten gallons of oil.
SISTER DOLCINA (who cannot resist her craving for good things):
Oh, fine!
OTHER QUESTUANT: New filberts, fifty pounds.
A QUESTUANT: A basket full of walnuts.
SISTER DOLCINA: So good with salt and biscuits!
THE MONITOR (reproachfully):
Now, sister!
A QUESTUANT: Lots of flour!
See here this fine pot-cheese
As fresh as morning dew
The best I can recall!
A small bag of new lentils,
Eggs, butter, and that's all!
A FEW SISTERS: The quest has been successful
As all of us can see.
(One of the Questuants leads the donkey away.)
OTHER QUESTUANT: For you who like good cheer....
A whole branch of raspberries!
(Noticing the other sisters' teasing attitude):
Oh, sisters, do have some!
A SISTER (teasingly):
I'd be afraid to take one! Thank you, no!
SISTER DOLCINA: No, no, do take some!
A FEW SISTERS: Thanks, dear!
(They form a group to the right, picking berries from the branch. There is subdued laughter.)
THE QUESTUANT: Who is now at the convent? Do you know?
   —Yes, no one.
      —Tell us why.
THE QUESTUANT: Outside the gate is standing
A gorgeous, magnificent coach.
SISTER ANGELICA (turning around as if seized by a sudden fear):
What is it, sister? Just what did you say?
You said a coach outside?....
Gorgeous?.... Gorgeous?.... Gorgeous?....
THE QUESTUANT: Truly imposing.
It is waiting for someone
Who has come to the convent,
And maybe in a moment
The great bell will announce the visitor.
SISTER ANGELICA (with growing trepidation):
Oh, do tell me, my sister,
What did that coach look like?
Did you notice its blazon?
A blazon made of ivory?....
And inside all upholstered
With a rare azure damask
And embroidered with silver?....
THE QUESTUANT (somewhat confused):
I really couldn't tell, my sister;
All I know is I saw
A splendid coach.... my sister!
THE SISTERS (all watching Sister Angelica):
—She was as white as snow....
—And now is red as fire!....
—The poor darling!
—She is trembling!
—She hopes someone has come to inquire for her!
(The bell rings; the sisters rush in from all sides.)
THE SISTERS: —The bell announcing strangers!
  —A visitor is coming!
    —For whom?
      —For whom will it be?
        —Maybe for me!
          —For me!
            —Perhaps my mother
Is bringing us a pair of dear, white doves!
—I wish it were my cousin from the mountains
Who brings us lavendar and other seeds!....
(Sister Genevieve draws near her companions and almost interrupts their exclamations by pointing to Sister Angelica with a gesture of pity.)
SISTER ANGELICA (with uplifted eyes, whispers):
Oh! Blessed Mother, read within my mind
And smile for me to Jesus pure and kind!
(The group of sisters silently approaches Sister Angelica. —Sister Genevieve comes out of the group and addresses Sister Angelica with exquisite sweetness.)
Oh! sister, kind and true!
We shall implore the Star of all the Stars
That the visit announced be for you.
SISTER ANGELICA (with great emotion):
Good sister, I thank you!
(From the left enters the Abbess who is to announce for which sister is the visit. Expectancy is very high. In that moment of silence, all the sisters offer their desire in sacrifice in favor of the afflicted sister. Sister Angelica, her eyes still uplifted, remains motionless, as if her whole being were being held in suspense.)
THE ABBESS (calling):
Sister Angelica!
(With a wave of her hand she directs the other sisters to withdraw.)
THE SISTERS (as if breathing at last):
(The spout of the fount is now the color of purest gold. The sisters fill a small watering pot with the golden water, they move away in the direction of the cemetery and disappear.)
SISTER ANGELICA: Mother, Mother, oh, tell me
Who came, Mother.... who came?
Seven years I've been waiting
Seven years, spent without a single word,
Or a letter, or news....
All have I offered to the Virgin
In fullest expiation....
THE ABBESS: To the Virgin offer also
Your present exaltation!
(Sister Angelica, crushed, slowly bends her knees and and concentrates in prayer. The vioces of the sisters are heard from the cemetery.)
Requiem aeternam
Dona ei, domine,
Et lux perpetua
Luceat ei—Requiescat in pace—Amen!
SISTER ANGELICA (raising her eyes):
Mother, I am serene and God I bless.
THE ABBESS: I announce you a visit
From your aunt, the Princess!
THE ABBESS: Your words will be
Full of humility
And all submission!....
On this occasion!....
All you say will be known
To the Virgin, in Heaven!
SISTER ANGELICA: I pray the Blessed Virgin to hear, Amen!
(The Abbess moves away towards left of stage and disappears. Sister Angelica walks towards the reception arcade and anxiously looks in the direction of the little door. A noise of keys. The door is opened outwardly by the sister portress who remains standing alongside the door in the shadow of the room. Then appears the Abbess who stops next to the sister portress. The two sisters stand one on each side of the door, and, between the two white figures, bending in a deferential attitude, passes a dark figure severely composed in a deportment of aristocratic dignity. Enter the Princess, who walks rather slowly, leaning on a thin ebony stick. She stops and throws a glance at her niece, coldly and without a trace of emotion. Sister Angelica, at sight of her aunt, is very much moved, but controls herself because the figures of the Abbess and the sister portress are seen at the door. The little door is closed again. Sister Angelica, full of emotion, and almost staggering, moves toward her aunt, but the old lady merely stretches out her left hand as if to indicate that she will only consent to Sister Angelica kissing it. Sister Angelica seizes the outstretched hand, raises it to her lips, and while the Princess sits down, she falls upon her knees, unable to utter a single word. A moment of silence. Sister Angelica, with tears streaming down her cheeks, imploringly keeps her eyes upon her aunt's face. But the old lady ostentatiously stares straight ahead.)
THE PRINCESS: Your father, the all powerful, Prince Gualtiero,
And your beloved mother, Princess Clara,
Upon their death
Twenty years ago....
(The old lady stops to cross herself):
Entrusted to my care their little children
Together with their ample patrimony:
I was to subdivide it
With wisdom and all fairness
In case I should have deemed it opportune.
This I have done. Here is the document.
You may have it, examine and sign it.
SISTER ANGELICA: After seven years.... I am before you
May this blessed ground touch your heart, my aunt....
This place ought to entrance
Your clemency and pity....
THE PRINCESS: And also your penance.
I must, however, tell you now the reason
That made imperative this subdivision;
Your little sister,
Anna Viola,
Will soon be married.
Married, my little
Anna Viola?
My darling little sister
Still so young!
(She stops and thinks a moment):
Why so young?.... 'tis seven years!....
Seven years have gone by!
Oh! sister blond and fair, thou wilt be married,
My darling little pet, may thou be happy!
Who is the bridegroom?
THE PRINCESS: A man who has forgiven the black stain
Cast upon our unblemished blazon.
SISTER ANGELICA: Oh, sister of my mother
You are so hard and merciless.
THE PRINCESS: How dare you speak that way?
You call me hard? ....You dare call me merciless?
Your mother you would sway
Almost against your aunt?....
Very often at night
In our chapel at home
I kneel in prayer....
In the stillness of that religious solitude
I feel my spirit sallying forth from me
To encounter the spirit of your mother!
In ethereal and lofty reverie!
'Tis sad and painful
To hear the dead's long sighs when they bemoan!
When the mystical vision fades away
Of you remains in me one thought alone:
For her sin she must pay!....
Now offer to the Virgin
My sternest justice!
SISTER ANGELICA: All I have offered her.... yes.... all I had!
But there's an offer I can never make!
To that Mother, the sweetest of all Mothers
I cannot offer to forget.... my son.
My son!.... my darling son!
The sweet, dear baby torn away from me
Whom I have seen and kissed but once!
My darling child! My darling child so distant!
This is the word expected
By me for seven years!
Do speak to me of him!
Tell me what he looks like!
Hasn't he the sweetest face?
Are not his eyes like stars?
Do speak to me of him
Of my son.... of my son!
(A pause. The old lady does not answer while gazing at the distracted mother):
Why don't you speak?
Why don't you speak?
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Another instant of this gruesome silence
And for all time you'll damn your cruel soul!
The Virgin is there listening. She will judge!
THE PRINCESS: 'Tis now two years
The child was stricken
By fatal sickness....
No care was spared to save his life.
(The aunt silently bends her head):
(Sister Angelica, with a heartbreaking cry, drops to the ground face downwards. Her aunt gets up to aid her, thinking she has fainted; but, hearing Sister Angelica's sobs, she controls her movement of pity. Standing up, she turns towards a sacred image on the wall to her right and, leaning with both hands on the ebony stick, with bent head, she prays in silence. Sister Angelica's sobs continue, stifled and heartrending. Darkness now begins to pervade the entire scene. The door opens. Sister Angelica raises herself from the ground, but remains kneeling with both hands covering her face. The portress enters with a small light which she places on the little table. The Princess speaks to the portress, who leaves only to return immediately with the Abbess carrying in her hand a tablet, and ink-well and a quill. Sister Angelica hears the sisters approaching, turns around and understands. In silence, she drags herself up to the table and with trembling hand affixes her signature to the parchment. Then she moves away, and, again, she covers her face with both hands. The two sisters leave. The Princess takes the parchment, then moves towards her niece; but, as she draws near, Sister Angelica shrinks away from her with a slight movement of her whole body. Then the Princess proceeds towards the door, strikes it with her cane, the portress opens, takes up the lantern and shows the Princess her way out. The Princess follows her. From the threshold she again glances back to her niece. She goes out and disappears. The door is again closed. Night has fallen. In the cemetery the sisters are lighting the small lanterns on the various tombstones.)
Without thy mother,
Dearest, thou didst die!
Thy sweet lips
Without my fond kisses
Grew white and
Cold as snow!
And thine eyes
Thou didst close, my darling!
Then, unable
To caress me,
Thy tiny hands
Were crossed on thy chest!
And thou didst die
Without e'er knowing
With what wild passion
Thy mother loved thee!
Now that thou art an angel of the heavens
Thou wilt at last behold thy mother's face.
Thou canst descend to me from up above
And I seem to hear thy flight through the space.
I feel thy kisses and thy caresses!
Oh tell me, when may I see thee in heaven?
When will I know thy kisses?
Oh sweetest end of all my bitter sorrows,
Tell me when I may hope to fly to thee
When will death o'ertake me?
Do tell your mother, sweetest of all children,
With the bright light of yonder flickering stars,
Speak, oh speak, my sweetheart!
(The lanterns are all lighted in the cemetery; the cloister is now shrouded in almost complete darkness. The sisters come out of the graveyard two by two and draw near Sister Angelica, now absorbed in ecstasy. The group of the sisters draws closer, in silence. In the penumbra it seems as if the white-clad shadows scarcely touch the ground as they walk along.)
THE SISTERS: Your wish will be granted, dear sister,
The Virgin has heard your heart's prayer.
Your wish will be granted, dear sister,
The Virgin takes you in her care!
(Sister Angelica rises as if under the spell of a mystic exaltation.)
SISTER ANGELICA: Her blessing hath come down from Heaven
And pours in my soul new delight,
Resplendent, so brilliant, so bright!
I see now, dear sisters, my goal
And filled with great joy is my soul!
Sing, sisters, the angels are singing....
Our souls to the Virgin are clinging!
ALL: Our souls to the Virgin are clinging!
(From back stage, to the right, is heard the rattle. The sisters move in the direction of the arcade and the white theory vanishes into the cells.)
Her blessing hath come down from Heaven!
(The cloister is now submerged in complete darkness. Upon the little church, gradually, is lighted a shining cupola of stars. The moon rises above the cypresses—— A cell-door opens. Sister Angelica appears.)
SISTER ANGELICA (carries in her hand an earthen jar which she puts down at the foot of a cypress; she makes a small bunch of brambles and branches, heaps up a few stones in the fashion of andirons and places the bunch upon them. She goes to the fount and fills the jar with water. She lights the fire with a piece of flint and puts the jar on the fire. Then she walks towards the shrubbery):
Oh, friendly flowers, you are fair compensation
For all the sorrows flung on me by love!
(As if calling by name the flowers and herbs she is picking):
Come, oleander.
Where art thou, darkest laurel?....
Beautiful nightshade, come!....
. . . . . . . .
'Tis now thy turn, oh powerful, bitter hemlock!
Thou sayest: “Forget me not!”
How e'er could I? Come, enough have I fought!
(Turning around and pressing the flowers to her breast):
And you be blessed all, oh fragrant flowers,
You who will quench the pain of my last hours!
(She takes a handful of the herbs and flowers she has picked and throws them into the boiling water, looks a while at the poison being formed, takes the jar and places it at the foot of the cross; then turns to the right, toward the cell):
My dear sisters, farewell, farewell, farewell!
I am leaving for ever.
'Tis my son who is calling!
Amongst the flickering stars
I saw his smile so dear!
He said from Heaven: “Mother, come, come here!”
Farewell! farewell!
Farewell, dear church! Wherein so much I prayed!
Friendly shelter for my sobs and prayers.
From Heaven did descend the Virgin's blessing!
I die for him and rush into his arms!
(In an impulse of irresistible exaltation she embraces and kisses the cross, then, bending rapidly, she picks up the jar, turns towards the church and with her eyes fixed in the heavens, drinks the poison. Then she leans against a cypress and, pressing her chest with her left hand and slowly dropping her right arm, she lets the jar fall to the ground.
The act of suicide she has committed seems to free Sister Angelica from the exaltation that had seized her, bringing her back to reality. A brief pause. Her face, so serene and smiling before, now takes an expression of intense anguish, as if a sudden and terrible revelation had come upon her.)
(Clouds now cover the moon and the stars; the stage is very dark. A desperate cry is heard.)
Ah! I am lost!
I have taken my life!
I die with the blackest of sins!
(In despair, she throws herself to the ground): (She seems to hear the voice of angels imploring for her, the Mother of all Mothers.)
Oh! Madonna, Madonna!
'Twas the love of my child THE ANGELS
That made me lose my reason.
Don't let me die, Madonna, in disgrace! O gloriosa Virginum
Sublimis inter sidera,
Give me a sign of the mercy! Qui te creavit, parvulum
Give me a sign of the mercy! Lacente nutris ubere.
  Quod Heva tristis abstulit
Oh, Madonna, save me!   Tu reddis almo germine:
'Tis a mother that prays thee!   Intrent ut astra flebiles,
'Tis a mother imploring....   Cœli recludis cardines.
Oh, Madonna, save me!
(Sister Angelica sees the miracle taking place. The little church suddenly becomes replendant with mystic light. The door opens and the Queen of comfort appears, solemn, with a sweet expression on her face and, in front of her, a blond child, all white, is seen.)
(The Virgin gently, with the kindest of gestures, pushes the child towards the dying mother....)
(she dies.)


contributed by Richard S. Bogart

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20 Mar 2009