Art Imitates Art in 'Goyescas'

Puccini's opera takes place in the garden of a convent. Nuns can be heard singing "Ave Maria," with Sister Angelica's voice standing out from the rest. As their service ends, the Monitress, a sister responsible for discipline, assigns punishment to nuns who have caused laughter during the time of worship.

The subject of longing is raised. The Monitress says that for nuns, all longing is forbidden. But some of the sisters admit to wishing for simple things -- a chance to pet a lamb, or to indulge in a tasty meal. Sister Angelica says she desires nothing, but the others know that's not true. Angelica, they say, longs for news of her wealthy family, who forced her to enter the convent -- though no one seems to know why.

Before long, the Abbess arrives, and announces that Angelica has a visitor. It's her aunt, the Princess. She's dressed in black, and as the two women talk, it becomes clear that Angelica entered the convent after giving birth to an illegitimate child. Then, just as the Princess leaves, she coldly informs Angelica that the child is dead.

With her aunt gone, Angelica begins to weep, and prays to join her child in heaven. Finally, in despair, she decides to drink poison. At first, she seems joyful that her unhappy life will soon end. But then she realizes that by committing suicide, she'll be condemned, and will never join her child in heaven.

            In desperation, Angelica prays for forgiveness, and salvation. The skies open, and a vision of the Madonna appears, along with Angelica's child, who leads her into heaven.