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PUCCINI LA RONDINE (The Swallow)
A comparative review of DVD recordings by Ian Lace

(N.B. A comparative review of audio recordings of Puccini’s La Rondine can be read by following this link - audio recordings. That file contains much material that will be found below but concentrates on a detail comparative review of the audio recordings: Act by act synopses with integrated reviews and Conclusions and Recommended Recording)

 http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/516aBM0VUNL._SL500_AA300_.jpghttp://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51oPc4UadJL._SL500_AA300_.jpghttp://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51js8PctegL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a large file and contains:-

1.      Cast lists of main characters of all five DVD recordings

2.      An introductory article about La Rondine

3.      Act by act synopses with integrated reviews

4.      Conclusions and Recommended Recording

 

Recommended biography of Puccini – Giacomo Puccini by Conrad Wilson, Phaidon Press, 1997, ISBN: 071483291 X

 Click here to see a general article on the operas of Puccini

 Cast Lists and Recordings References

(just follow the links in the headings of each of the five DVDs below to read the five MusicWeb reviews).

 Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924) La Rondine - Lyrical comedy in three acts

 

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/516aBM0VUNL._SL500_AA300_.jpg1) The Historic 1958 Teatro di San Carlo, Naples production

Magda - Rosanna Carteri

Ruggero - Giuseppe Gismondo

Lisette - Ornella Rovero

Prunier - Gino Sinimberghi

Rambaldo - Giuseppe Valdengo

Orchestra and Choir of Teatro di San Carlo, Naples

Conducted by Michele Lauro

Recorded TV broadcast - 26 January 1958

HARDY VIDEO DVD HCD 4026

 

2) The Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 2008 Production

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51oPc4UadJL._SL500_AA300_.jpgMagda - Fiorenza Cedolins
Ruggero - Fernando Portari
Lisette - Sandra Pastrana
Prunier - Emanuele Giannino
Rambaldo - Stefano Antonucci
Périchaud - George Mosely
Gobin - Iorio Zennaro
Crébillon - Giuseppe Nicodemo
A majordomo - Andrea Zaupa
Yvette - Sabrina Vianello
Bianca - Giacinta Nicotra
Suzy - Annika Kaschenz
Acrobatic Swing Dance, Venezia
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice/Carlo Rizzi
Directed by Graham Vick
rec. live, Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 2008
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101329

3) The 2007 production from 53rd Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago, Italy

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51js8PctegL._SL500_AA300_.jpgMagda - Svetla Vassileva (soprano)
Ruggero - Fabio Sartori (tenor)
Lisette - Maya Dashuk (soprano)
Prunier - Emanuele Giannino (tenor)
Rambaldo - Marzio Giossi (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Puccini Festival/Alberto Veronesi
rec. live, 53rd Puccini Festival,

Torre del Lago, Italy, August 2007.
NAXOS 2.110266

 

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2009/Dec09/Puccini_Rondine_0743335.jpg

4) The Washington National Opera 1998 Production

Magda - Ainhoa Arteta (soprano)
Ruggero - Marcus Haddock (tenor)

Prunier - Richard Troxell (tenor)
Lisette - Inva Mula (soprano)
Rambaldo – William Parcher (baritone)
Washington National Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Emmanuel Villaume
rec. live, Kennedy Center Washington USA, 11, 15 March 1998
DECCA 074 3335 [110:00]

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51sPZaXheWL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

 

5) The 2009 Metropolitan Opera Production

Magda - Angela Gheorghiu (soprano)

Ruggero - Roberto Alagna (tenor)

Prunier - Marius Brenciu (tenor)

Lisette - Lisette Oropesa (soprano)

Rambaldo - Samuel Ramey (bass)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Marco Armiliato
rec. live, HD transmission, 10 January 2009

EMI CLASSICS 6 31618 9 2

 

This was the first Met production of Puccini’s La Rondine since 1936. One more piece of evidence of its scandalous neglect for the better part of the 20th century.

Puccini's La Rondine (The Swallow)

… Perhaps like a swallow,
you will migrate towards the sea,
towards a bright land of dreams …

"Child, love is in bloom!
Take care, take care of your heart!
Kisses and laughter must be paid for with teardrops!

 

Introduction

[There is a short essay on the operas of Puccini included in the file on La Bohème which focuses on comparative reviews of five leading recordings]

A glance at the catalogues, confirms that La Rondine was, until the 1990s, largely ignored by the recording companies. The tide began to turn following the publicity it gained when the big Act I aria, 'Chi il bel sogno di Doretta' was used in the film, A Room With A View. Since then, at least four audio recordings and the five DVDs above have been released. La Rondine is appealing and accessible. It was highly esteemed by Puccini himself. The basic problem is that the work is something of a hybrid, neither opera nor operetta, and as such it has fallen between two stools, not really appealing to either faction and confusing the too few production companies who have attempted it. Thus it was all the more gratifying when the 1997 EMI recording starring Gheorghiu and Alagna won Gramophone's top award as their 'Recording of the Year'.

The decision to include La Rondine after La Bohème in our series of reviews of the operas of Puccini, was deliberate. Both operas are set in Paris - La Bohème in the 1830s of Louis Philippe, La Rondine twenty years later in the reign of Louis Napoleon III. There are similarities in plot and characters to such an extent that one might regard La Rondine as a sort of sequel to La Bohème [see inset below].

 

***** *****

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2000/june00/giacomo.JPG
Giacomo Puccini

 

The whole concept and composition of La Rondine was a catalogue of disasters!

 

La Rondine was composed as the Great War was raging, another reason for the failure of such a delicate piece. It was, perhaps, of too little consequence for such grim times? The Austrians and Italians were on opposing sides; but war for Puccini was something to hide from - as 'far away', and as discreetly as possible. The editor of a French publication went so far as to accuse Puccini of writing not only an 'enemy opera' but also one which would be 'treasonable' to stage in war-torn France. In response, the ever-parsimonious Puccini, uncharacteristically, donated a year's profits of Tosca performances in Paris, to France's wounded soldiers. Interestingly, though, the world premiere of La Rondine took place, in 1917, in neighbouring Monte Carlo! But Puccini was less inclined to give up his relationship with a German baroness!

The concept of La Rondine dated back to when Puccini visited Vienna in the autumn of 1913. He attended an operetta at the frivolous Karltheater where he was taken to one side and invited to compose an operetta of his own. A fat fee and the chance of a flattering award of the Star of the Order of Franz Joseph were irresistible temptations.

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2000/june00/Bullier's1.JPGThe Austrians clearly wanted what they were used to: a German operetta, intermingling spoken words and music in the style of Johann Strauss and Franz Lehár.

Puccini loved Lehár but what he had in mind was something different. When he accepted Vienna's offer of 200,000 kronen along with the property rights, he asserted, "I will never write an operetta; a comic opera, yes." It would be something like Der Rosenkavalier but more diverting and more organic, he maintained. What he actually produced was more like an elegant but more superficial La traviata, allowing his courtesan heroine to remain poignantly but definitely alive at http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2000/june00/rondinedance1.jpgthe end. There is also much in La Rondine, in the interweaving of the relationships of the two pairs of lovers, that echoes his own La Bohème and Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus. One will also detect echoes of Madama Butterfly.

 Liaison with potential Austrian librettists, performers, publishers, translators and backers while Europe was at war was a nightmare. The death of Puccini's publisher, Giulio Ricordi, in 1912, had hit Puccini very hard. Giulio, together with Puccini's librettists Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica had formed, with the composer, the quartet that had produced all the successful popular Puccini operas. Giulio's son, Tito Ricordi, was of a different calibre - a ruthless businessman without his father's artistic sensitivities. He was unsympathetic and made it quite plain that he was totally uninterested in acquiring the Italian rights to what he called "Puccini's Austrian folly". Ricordi's old rival, Edoardo Sonzogno jumped at the chance of adding a Puccini opera to his stable and he it was who came up with the excellent diplomatic choice of Monte Carlo for the premiere.

As usual, there was trouble over the libretto. Puccini rejected the first Austrian attempt but accepted the second though his ignorance of the German language meant there was much translation, back-translation and re-translation necessary before acceptable German and Italian versions of the work would be attained. Puccini's former librettist, Giuseppe Giacosa had died, leaving just Illica who was now joined by a new name, Giuseppe Adami. As usual Puccini was difficult about the progress of the libretto requesting alteration after alteration. He could never make up his mind about the ending - alternative versions of it exist with different routes for Magda to escape from her amorous predicament

As preparations progressed, Puccini became more and more concerned about the future of his creation so he shrewdly re-negotiated with his Austrian contacts whereby he would retain only a half-share of the rights in exchange for control of the premiere. In the event, the Monte Carlo premiere was successful. The critic's were happy with the music and the audience, to Puccini's delight, found La Rondine 'moving and comic' just as he had hoped that they would.

Despite such good omens, La Rondine languished. The Italian critics accused Puccini of being out of touch with the times. Bologna was not too hostile but Milan was so vituperative that Puccini was jolted and decided to rewrite it, but in vain. The problem, never really resolved, was that last act which was seen to be something of a let-down after all the good tunes and the two hit numbers of the first two acts.

La Rondine has never really advanced beyond the fringes of the Puccini repertoire. Yet it has the most engaging melodies, sparkling orchestrations and it is, as Conrad Wilson has said, “an elegant, fastidiously fashioned opera that enabled Puccini to exploit a side of his musical personality he was prone to neglect”. In another perceptive article with the Pappano audio recording, Roger Parker observes, "There seems no doubt that the unusual plot type … allow(ed) Puccini to discover some remarkably fresh musical colours, (and so to release himself from that always-threatening sense of creative paralysis) … most noticeable is the overall emotional restraint of the score. In a few places we can hear a vocal intensity reminiscent of Tosca, Butterfly and Fanciulla. Far more typical, are the gentle endings to Acts I and III, no fortissimo enunciation of "the big tune" and no brass-reinforced whole-tone scales. Instead we hear delicate orchestral combinations that we need all our attention to appreciate. With this new tone often comes a new harmonic language, sometimes a kind of chromaticism that startlingly anticipates the style of American musicals decades later …"

It would be nice to think that we could look forward to sparkling stage productions of La Rondine. For impresarios and producers, a sympathetic production, not heavy-handed can be immensely rewarding. (This last paragraph was originally written in the year 2000. Since then stage productions of La Rondine have increased dramatically in Europe and in America (Dallas, Washington and New York to mention only three)).

 

La Rondine – a sequel to La Bohème?

 

Many commentators have remarked upon the similarity of plot and character between La Bohème and La Rondine, including comments in an intelligent essay by Barrymore Laurence Scherer, entitled "A Bird in a Gilded Cage".

 

Scherer remarks upon the resemblance between the two operas and suggests that Magda might be Musetta twenty years on. She is now street-wise and recognises that her love affair with Ruggero is probably her last fling. She is also shrewd enough to realise, in Act III, that the writing is on the wall when the money begins to run out, and she must face the more open-eyed assessment of the mother of the love-blind Ruggero if she decides to go to his village as his wife. Besides, she has the opportunity to return to her Parisian comforts offered by her older, richer protector Rambaldo, who would be delighted to take her back.

 

Scherer also suggests that Prunier is really Rodolfo, older and more cynical but still "content to find amusement and gratification wherever it presents itself. True to form, however, he remains powerfully attracted to pretty women of the working class [Lisette]. Consciously or unconsciously, Puccini carried through the Rodolfo-Prunier lineage by means of his vocal assignment of the latter role: The full-throated tenor of La Bohème has become a lighter, less powerful voice. Twenty years of sybaritic living have taken their toll."

 

Then, finally, the merry crowds that thronged Bohème's Café Momus during the reign of Louis Philippe now find their outlet at Bullier's. But the music has become mellower and there is an underlying bitter-sweetness.

 

Act by Act Synopses and Integrated Reviews

 

Act I - Magda's salon, Paris early evening - during the time of Louis Napoleon circa 1855-60.

As the sun sets, courtesan Magda is hosting a party for a number of friends including Rambaldo, her protector, and Prunier, a poet.

There is an air of ennui. Then Prunier sets all the ladies aflutter when he asserts that there is a new fashion in Paris for romance and if they are not careful they will catch the love bug. There follows some mutual flippant teasing between Prunier and the ladies, but Magda is inclined to take the idea of love more seriously. Prunier then mentions Doretta, the heroine of his latest lyric who has caught this bug. The ladies press him to sing of her. There follows, as darkness descends and soft lights illuminate the room, the famous 'Chi il bel sogno di Doretta' (Who can interpret Doretta's lovely dream). Prunier sings of Doretta who is approached by a king who promises her great riches if she will be his but she refuses "for gold cannot bestow happiness". This lovely song is taken up by Magda who gives her interpretation of Doretta's dream, about how she was made blissfully happy by a student's kiss. Her guests are enchanted.

The role of Prunier demands a singer who can convey wry irony, pomposity but with an urbane air, and yet tenderness too. All five tenors are very good, all larger than life and all nicely expressive. If I had to make a choice it would be a difficult decision between Brenciu (Armilato/EMI) and Troxell (Villaume/Decca). Puccini very cleverly gives his hit tune, 'Chi il bel sogno di Doretta' to Prunier first thus stoking up the emotional temperature in anticipation of Magda's glorious rendering. [Compilation producers please note, and include both tenor and soprano roles when contemplating this enchanting aria.] Of the five Magdas, Carteri enchants, but it is Gheorghiu that sends tingles up your spine followed not far behind by the rapture of Arteta.

Magda is gently mocked by her friends. Her banker protector Rambaldo then gives her an expensive pearl necklace. Magda is slightly taken aback, but his generosity does not shake her faith in the thought of true romance. Lisette, Magda's maid enters like a whirlwind and tells Rambaldo that a young man is outside seeking him. With http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2000/june00/rondinedance2.jpgMagda's permission, Rambaldo agrees to see him. This exchange is accompanied by music very reminiscent of Richard Strauss in Der Rosenkavalier mode. It should be said, at this point, that Puccini's music for La Rondine is very much based on waltz rhythms in deference to Viennese tradition. The role of Lisette calls for an outgoing streetwise charmer. I was least impressed with the rather matronly Rovero and most impressed with the youthful and naughty cheekiness of Mula (Villaume/Decca) and, most of all, Oropesa (Armiliato/EMI).

 Magda's friends say she is very lucky to have Rambaldo but she replies in another wonderful extended melodic aria, 'Denaro! Nient' altro che denaro!' (Money, money, money). In it, she remembers, with affection, a brief romantic meeting, long ago, with a student at Bullier's, a popular Parisian nightclub. Gheorghiu reminisces tenderly, lightly as if in a dream, recalling the evening and vaguely wondering how she got there and how she left - a radiant reading with Pappano contributing a spellbinding atmosphere.

The ladies are disappointed at the inconclusive ending to Magda's story and so the conversation turns to fortune-telling. A screen is brought out and to some oriental-sounding music Prunier begins to tell the ladies' fortunes. He tells Magda, somewhat ambiguously, that like the swallow she might find a brighter future in the sun but there could also be impending tragedy. Puccini's scoring for this brief delicate aria is sublime in its intimation of anticipated joy and sadness. Earlier, there had also been another brief but fascinating aria for Prunier when he had enthused about famous femme fatales that he would liked to have known including Salome at which point, Puccini slyly quotes from Richard Strauss's opera.

In the meantime, Ruggero has entered with a letter of introduction from his father to Rambaldo. This is Ruggero's first visit to Paris and he is eager to know where to go to celebrate on his first evening. At this point the fortune-telling session concludes and many of the guests come forward to see Ruggero. Prunier cynically recommends that Ruggero goes to bed on his first night. Lisette and the ladies remonstrate heatedly and advise the young man to go to Bullier's. The appearance of the opera's hero, Ruggero, in Act I, is unusually brief, very brief even; for after receiving this advice, he leaves the stage until Act II. But in the original 1917 version, the one used by Pappano, an extra aria is included allowing Ruggero to enthuse on the anticipated delights of the City of Lights. But this frankly is a rather thin opportunity.

Rambaldo and the other guests then leave. Magda tells Lisette she will be staying in and that she can take the evening off. Magda muses over her fortune as foretold by Prunier and notices the list of nightclubs that was drawn up while she was out of the room. She spots Bulliers and runs out excitedly. Now, Lisette, smartly dressed after borrowing some of her mistress's clothes, furtively returns to meet Prunier whose earlier taunting of her has really been a smoke screen, for he is her lover. He criticises bits of her costume and makeup and while she is attending to them, he confides that he is slumming in associating with her but, despite himself, he loves her madly. At length, they leave billing and cooing. This is an amusing and charming duet.

The first act ends with Magda now dressed almost unrecognisably as a grisette hurriedly leaving after them to the bitter-sweet strains, in the orchestra, of Doretta's song.

Act II - later that evening at Bullier's night club, Paris

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2000/june00/rondinedance3.jpg
The second act opens ebulliently with merrymaking at Bullier's. Crowds dance, drink champagne, romance and flirt. Puccini's sparkling high-spirited music, for chorus and orchestra, is performed brilliantly by Villaume's team aided by sparkling performances from the full supporting cast and some ravishing sets and costumes. The Metropolitan production has sets and costumes of an era around about the end of the Great War and these too are appealing The music quietens as Magda, in her disguise, enters, immediately attracting the amorous attentions of a group of students. When she catches the eye of Ruggero, they escort her to his table thinking she is his 'date'. Puccini writes some deliciously tender and 'mock' innocent music for her entrance and all conductors catch the mood well.

 Ruggero invites Magda to sit with him and he tells her that she seems timid and alone and that she reminds him of the girls of Montauban, his village - "beautiful, simple and modest." to a charming little tune that has a delightfully subtle rustic flavour. He then invites her to dance to the lovely strains of 'Nella dolce carezza della danza' (In the soft caresses of the dance). Gheorghiu and Alagna sing as though they are transported, with a ravishing dream-like accompaniment from Armiliato. Arteta and Haddock enchant too in this delicate scene of love's first blooming. Haddock’s shy and tentative first approaches to Magda are very affecting The following dance reaches a huge ecstatic climax as Lisette and Prunier arrive and, immediately, the possessive Prunier accuses Lisette of flirting provocatively.  

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2000/june00/rondinedance4.jpgSomewhat exhausted Magda and Ruggero return to their seats. Ruggero orders drinks and Magda asks him to give the waiter twenty sous and let him keep the change - her reminiscences of the young student she had met all those years before are being awakened to become reality. Ruggero is captivated and declares that when he falls in love it will be for life. They write their names on the table but Magda, ever practical, says the image will rub off. Ruggero responds by saying, "something quite different will stay with me your secret." Clearly deeply moved, Magda pleads with him "to accept me as fate has brought me to you." Gheorghiu is deeply touching here, tenderly and just slightly motherly, a beautiful moment. This leads into another gorgeous duet. Ruggero leads by replying "Io non so chi siate voi…' ("I don't know who you are or how you came to be here with me but…"). The orchestra takes up the melody of this short but exquisite duet with whispering on-lookers noticing how the pair are falling deeply in love. Both Gheorgiu and Alagna and Arteta and Haddock impress here. 

Then Lisette and Prunier notice them. Comedy follows with Magda determined to conceal her true identity from Ruggero and indulging in a deliciously farcical and ironic exchange with Lisette about the clothes that her maid has 'borrowed' from her wardrobe to wear to Bullier's. Brenciu and Oropesa excel at this point. Now follows yet another highlight - an ecstatic quartet between the two pairs of lovers with the on-looking revellers again forming a chorus. Both the Decca and EMI readings thrill.  

But things are brought back to earth with the arrival of Magda's protector, Rambaldo. Prunier espying him, and anxious to protect Magda's new love, gets Ruggero to take Lisette out of sight on the pretext that Rambaldo is her master and would not want to find her there. Prunier also warns Magda to escape too but she stands firm and faces Rambaldo to declare her new love and to tell him that all is over between them. Dejectedly Rambaldo leaves warning her she will regret her decision.  

The stage empties. The revellers leave as dawn approaches. Drained, Magda sinks into a chair and stares fixedly ahead as if questioning her destiny. The hall is now empty. The first cold rays of morning show uncleared tables, crushed flowers and upset glasses. "All the infinite sadness of a party which is over is caught in this early morning light." Now Puccini delivers a masterstroke. A voice is heard singing in the street as the sounds of an awakening Paris are heard. At just the right distance, and accompanied by a whistling companion, so as to add just that heightened bit of poignancy, Pappano's female off-stage singer touches on the inevitable sadness of love:-  

"I am the dawn, which is born only to dispel any magic of the moonlit night!

Do not trust in love!"  

But the final moments of Act II end on a happier note as Ruggero rejoins Magda and they embrace. But Magda shivers and murmurs "I'm afraid! I'm too happy!" 

Act III A villa on the Riviera  

Magda and Ruggero have fled to a haven in the South of France. Act III opens with a short Debussy-like orchestral evocation of a languid scented garden overlooking a heat-hazed sea. As if echoing this evocation, Magda muses contentedly, "Do you hear? Even the sea breathes quietly. The air drinks in the perfume of the flowers". The two lovers relax contentedly. Puccini recapitulates much of the music that he has used in Acts I and II but the sense of urgency has been dispelled; one gets the impression that their love has softened but deepened, yet Ruggero seems as ardent as ever but is now eager to settle down. 

In their bliss, Ruggero, reveals that he has written to his father asking for money - the couple's creditors are pressing in - but more importantly for permission to marry. Ruggero reaffirms that he wants one love for life and in a warmly sentimental aria, sung with sensitivity and tenderness by all three tenors, he looks forward to them living in the village of his parents and starting a family. At first Magda is enraptured and snuggles up to her lover, but when he goes off to see if a letter has arrived, she hesitates and is filled with fear. What about her past as a kept woman? Should she conceal it or confess. She exits in anguish. 

Lisette and Prunier now make an appearance. At once they begin to squabble. They had come to Nice to pursue an on-stage singing career for Lisette. Alas, she had failed hopelessly and they had fled the town with derision ringing in their ears. Lisette is paranoid about this and thinks there are more people deriding her around every corner. Prunier is unsympathetic and bitterly disappointed that his woman has failed him. As for Lisette, herself, all she wants is peace and a return to the simple life of a maid. This rather inflated scene tends to slow up the action, although Brenciu and Oropesa compel. 

Prunier then espies the Maitre D'Hotel and asks to see Magda. When she comes, he first of all suggests that Lisette resumes duties as Magda's maid, an arrangement that suits both women, and then he reveals the real reason for wanting to see Magda. He tells her he thinks she is living in a fool's paradise, that her real place is back in Paris and that "someone is waiting for you, who knows your troubles and is ready to serve you in any way!" - clearly, this is Rambaldo. Having delivered his message he prepares to depart. Even though both he and Lisette have sworn they never want to see each other again, they arrange to meet at 10 o'clock that evening. Now, in a happier frame of mind, Lisette dons her maid's uniform, fusses around a bit and exits.  

Ruggero returns in great excitement with a letter from his mother. He persuades Magda to read it. She does so and is greatly moved by its sentiments, his mother wanting Ruggero to kiss his chosen bride for her. Carteri and Gheorghiu both wring one’s heart. But Magda shrinks from accepting the mother's kiss and confesses, "I have passed in triumph between shame and gold". Ruggero, at first cannot believe her and is then torn between anger and anguish. The music becomes more dramatic and anguished, culminating in Ruggero's heartrendingly beautiful aria ‘Ma come puoi lasciarmi’ (But how can you leave me) with Alagna bringing tears to the eyes. But Magda is resolute in her sacrifice of love and she persuades him to forget her and let her take the sorrow on herself. Lisette enters and guesses intuitively what has happened. She comes forward to support and lead away a distraught and tearful Magda. The curtain falls with Ruggero sunken, head in hands and Magda, off-stage sadly murmuring Ah!… 

But Puccini was not happy with his Act III ending and after the successful Monte Carlo premiere he could not resist tinkering with it. Both The Washington Opera and the Torre del Lago productions choose to stage this revision. In both versions Rambaldo appears in person and attempts to seduce Magda back to Paris. In the meantime an angry Ruggero has now learnt of Magda’s deception through an anonymous letter addressed to him. Ruggero turns on Magda in a rage and curses her. In Marta Domingo’s Washington production, which includes newly-discovered music, Magda, in despair, wanders into the sea and oblivion. 

Conclusions and Recommended Recording

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2000/june00/RondineRobertoandAngela.JPG
Of the five DVDs, two disappoint and two enchant. One is a fascinating historic document in mono sound and vision starring the lovely Rosanna Carteri and including some imaginative production values. Strange that the two disappointments – both ugly modern treatments - came from European opera houses while the two winning ones came from America. Perhaps bigger American budgets allow more sumptuous productions?
 
Of the two modern European issues, the Naxos DVD of the production from the Puccini Festival Opera at
Torre del Lago was quite simply too dreadful to contemplate and frankly I would prefer to spare readers by not drawing attention to it. The other from Venice’s La Fenice Opera was not so bad but it was disappointing; one of my complaints concerned the nightmarish vision of Bullier’s nightclub - the setting for Act II - which really disturbs. Surely Puccini envisaged the 19th century elegance and romance of Bullier’s chandelier-illuminated ballroom leading out onto lantern-lit, perfumed gardens. Instead we have a crass mid-20th century realization: huge neon figures of half-naked dancing girls and an on-stage VW van dispensing food and drink. To add to the incongruity the stage is invaded by Vespas and Lambrettas and men and women looking, for the most part, too old to pass as students.
 
Quite the opposite of these awful realisations is the 1998
Washington Opera production with Ainhoa Arteta as Magda and Marcus Haddock as Ruggero on a 2009 Decca DVD (074 3335). Sets and costumes are traditional; Puccini would have approved. As my colleague, Nick Barnard remarked, “Truly magnificent singing allied to finely detailed acting in a brilliantly staged production caught on film with customary alertness to musical and dramatic detail by Brian Large. I do not find myself returning to my operatic DVDs very often but this is an exception – an excellent way of discovering the hidden jewel that is La Rondine.” Quite so. Just a pity about the dark ending. 

The overall winner has to be the 2009 Metropolitan Opera production with Gheorghiu and Alagna

Ian Lace

 

 


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Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

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Reviews from previous months
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