La Rondine, with Jaho and Ayan, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2013

This Puccini opera, first produced at Monte Carlo in 1917, was not seen at the Royal Opera House at all during the twentieth century. Then in 2002 a co-production with the Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse appeared at Covent Garden with its magnificently spacious sets by Ezio Frigerio and swirling Act I frescos à la Alphonse Mucha, along with glorious early twentieth century costumes by Franca Squarciapino.

Magda and friends, Act I

Magda and friends, Act I

For its second revival, under the baton of Marco Armiliato, I chose to see Ermonela Jaho, a dramatic soprano who has stunned London audiences in previous roles such as Suor Angelica in September 2011. She was wonderful, though Puccini’s watered down attempt at operetta is always disappointing, and in those moments where you look for a thrilling climax, the composer drops the ball. But the Albanian Ms Jaho as Magda, and Brazilian tenor Attala Ayan as Ruggero, were superb together. Their excellent chemistry gave this doomed love affair an exquisite emotional pull as Magda finally shows she cannot ever be the wife of a respectable young man.

Ruggero and Magda at Bullier's, Act II

Ruggero and Magda at Bullier’s, Act II

It was originally a bold move by the Carltheater in Vienna to commission an operetta from Puccini to complement the huge number of premieres by Von Suppe, and more recently other composers such as Lehár and Lanner, but it fell foul of the First World War, hence the opening in Monte Carlo. Yet Puccini was never really the tunesmith for a Viennese operetta, brilliant composer though he was, and his waltz melodies are more Parisian than Viennese, as befits an opera set in Paris and the Côte d’Azur.


The end of the affair

This Nicolas Joël production uses the stage to excellent effect in the three scenes, and all the singers looked very much the part. The portrayal of Magda’s protector Rambaldo by Pietro Spagnoli was excellent, but Edgaras Montvidas’s voice lacked controlled lyricism as the poet Prunier, and the soprano of Sabina Puértolas as his lover and Magda’s maid sounded a trifle harsh. Her over-acting was also a problem, though that could be due to revival director Stephen Barlow, whose work I have always admired in the past. Here there seemed to be a lack of imagination in Act II with undue focus on the main couple by other diners at Bullier’s in big choral moments, but I loved the drunken vignette with the three pairs of dancers. What fun.

Yet it was Ermonela Jaho and Atalla Ayan as Magda and Ruggero who made the performance, and as they hugged one another during the stage calls the audience roared applause for their superb chemistry together.

There are two further performances with this cast on July 20 and 21 — for details click here.

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