La Rondine, live relay from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Jan 2009

If this opera were by a lesser composer than Puccini it would be a forgotten work, and indeed the Met has not staged it in 72 years. Its conception arose when Puccini accepted a lucrative contract from Vienna to write an operetta with eight or ten numbers only, the rest to be spoken dialogue. But he rejected the libretto submitted by the Viennese, and the composition of the text was given to the young Giuseppe Adami, who soon afterwards wrote the libretto for Il Tabarro, a dramatically powerful one-act opera. By contrast, La Rondine hovers uneasily between opera and operetta, and although containing some pretty music and technically difficult passages for the soprano, it never really convinces. The story is certainly more appropriate to an operetta: a lively courtesan wants to see what true romance is really like, so she falls in love; but being unable to explain her history to her lover, she reluctantly returns to her life as a courtesan.

It’s a wonderful vehicle for the soprano, and Angela Gheorghiu sang the main role of Magda beautifully, looking and acting the part to perfection. Roberto Alagna sang Ruggero, a newcomer to Paris and the young man she falls in love with. His ardour seemed forceful and shallow at the same time, but this should be judged as an operetta, and when Samuel Ramey, singing the part of Rambaldo, comes on at the end to take Magda back to his life of wealthy frivolity, the superficiality of the story becomes all too apparent. The other love match, between Prunier and Magda’s maid Lisette was well sung by Marius Brenciu and Lisette Oropesa, and she was a delight, hamming the part up to perfection.

The delightful production by Nicolas Joël, with sets by Ezio Frigerio and costumes by Franca Squarciapino, was already staged in London as well as Toulouse and San Francisco, and the young conductor Marco Armiliato, who also directed the Toulouse production, kept things moving and gave the singers plenty of room to express themselves.

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