Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Revived, Not Reviled

La Rondine
Composed by Giacomo Puccini
Directed by Nicolas Joël
Conducted by Marco Armiliato
Starring Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, Lisette Oropesa, Marius Brenciu

The Metropolitan Opera
West 62nd and 65th Streets and Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues
(212) 362-6000
Performances on December 31, 2008; January 3, 7, 10, 13, February 11, 14, 19, 23, 26, 2009

Alagna and Gheorghiu
in La Rondine (photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
In the Puccini canon, not only is La Rondine never mentioned in the same breath as La Bohème, Tosca or Madame Butterfly, it also hasn’t been performed at the Met since 1936 (and only 18 times there in total!). But when opera’s reigning “love couple”–the husband-and-wife team of tenor Roberto Alagna and soprano Angela Gheorghiu–become champions of this neglected Puccini work, performing it in Europe, it’s a no-brainer to return it to the Met’s repertory.

Why La Rondine has been ignored is a mystery: its attractive roles for star singers and the usual Puccini bag of lovely melodies are packaged in a sentimental tale of love gained and lost set in glamorous Paris and the French Riviera. Beautiful but bored Magda—mistress of a rich old sugar daddy—meets and falls in love with the dashing Ruggero, whom she eventually leaves because she feels her checkered past will embarrass him.

Its bittersweet romance notwithstanding, Puccini composed La Rondine as a lighter, operetta-like work, even omitting the big, overemotional finale for which he is known, instead providing quiet, wordless vocal lines for Magda, brought off with an emotional directness by Gheorghiu that bring the opera to a stunning close.

Overall, the Met production–directed by Nicolas Joël in a staging originally seen at London’s Royal Opera House–positively glitters, with Ezio Frigerio’s eye-poppingly designed sets nodding to Klimt, Art Deco styles and Tiffany glass. The action’s updating to the 1920s does little harm, and Franca Squarciapino’s costumes are glitzy without being unduly garish.

Marco Armiliato splendidly conducts the Met Orchestra and Chorus, squeezing every last drop of lusciousness out of Puccini’s score, and accentuating the music’s subtler passages, like the chamber-like accompaniments and aforementioned finale. In a decent supporting cast, Marius Brenciu (as Prunier, the young songwriter-poet) and Lisette Oropesa (as Lisette, Magda’s maid and Prunier’s lover) sing strongly and have wonderful comic chemistry.

As for our charismatic superstars, they obviously love each other’s onstage company. There are moments when their voices sound pinched–particularly in his higher notes and her lower register–but together, they’re a joy to hear. Their delicious duets are reason enough for La Rondine to be regularly revived, rather than relatively reviled.

originally posted on timessquare.com

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