La Rondine, Opera Holland Park, OHP, June 2017Posted on 2 June 2017
Opera Holland Park aims to make opera more accessible, and by launching their 2017 season with Puccini’s light and fizzing Rondine they help do just that. Its lively melodies and Parisian sentimentality may lack the tragic depth of La Traviata or the drama of La Bohème, but if it’s dramatic punch you need, Katya Kabanova opens in the second half of July, and if it’s a walk on the edge of the abyss, Don Giovanni opens on Saturday.
The origin of Rondine as a possible Viennese operetta, turning subsequently to an Italian opera with a different libretto, is well explained in George Hall’s programme essay. The result bears the Viennese character of Fledermaus, as Magda and her quickwitted maid Lisette find one another out on the town with Lisette dressed in her mistress’s finery; and the Parisian character of Verdi’s Traviata with Magda, like Violetta, kept by the wealthy banker Rambaldo, unconsciously yearning for true love. Yet where Traviata’s Alfredo knows what he is dealing with, his counterpart Ruggero in Rondine is so innocent he only learns at the end of the opera, through her own confession that, as Puccini puts it, she is ‘no early violet’.
Super musical direction of the City of London Sinfonia by Matthew Waldren brought the score fully to life, with excellent singing and choreographic action by the chorus. A charming portrayal of the poet Prunier by Stephen Aviss, with Tereza Gevorgyan spirited and assertive as his lover Lisette, and David Stephenson showing consummate aplomb as Rambaldo. But it was the terrific performances of the main lovers, Magda and Ruggero that hit the heights. Elizabeth Llewellyn is a perfect Magda, warm and lively yet wistful in her Act I soliloquy as she recalls Prunier’s words about migrating like a swallow (the title of the opera), and matching Matteo Lippi’s glorious Italian tenor as Ruggero. This hugely talented singer was a revelation, to me at least, and she is so very good it baffles me why the ENO does not make more use of her.
The production by Martin Lloyd-Evans is a delight, with wonderful stage interactions among the cast, and it is astonishing how the simple designs by ‘takis’ served so well in all three acts with slight changes. The big scene change from Act I to II, from Magda’s apartment to the restaurant, was done in full view of the audience in a matter of seconds — a veritable conjuring trick.
This fun start to the 2017 season packs a musical punch as soon as the orchestra strikes up, a swallow heralding a summer of opera to come.
Performances continue with limited ticket availability on various dates until June 23 — for details click here.