“ … 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!
"I am the dawn, which is born only to
dispel any magic of the moonlit night! Do not trust in love!"
I will readily confess at the outset that
I have always had a great affection for La Rondine. Alas
this engaging opera has never really advanced beyond the fringes
of the Puccini repertoire. Yet it contains some of the composer’s
most sparkling, romantic melodies; Act II is consistently
[At this point I would like to refer readers
to my comparative
review of three audio recordings of La Rondine
in an extended file which also contains an essay on the evolvement
of the opera and a detailed synopsis of its plot].
I was, therefore, looking forward to seeing
this La Fenice production with eager anticipation. To the
best of my knowledge, this is the first DVD presentation of
Puccini’s unjustly neglected work.
I have to say I was disappointed. The main
trouble, to my mind, is the unsympathetic updating of the
action from the Paris of Louis Napoleon III, circa 1855-60,
to the City of Lights in the more garish 1950s.
of the opening act is less troubled by this updating. The
flouncy 1950s costumes with their romantic full skirts certainly
appeal but why is Fiorenza Cedolins, as the heroine Magda,
dressed so unflatteringly in what was presumably intended
to be a sophisticated black dress. Sadly it only succeeds
in making her look frumpy. This clumsiness is compounded by
her indelicate stage movements particularly as she sings the
famous 'Chi il bel sogno di Doretta' - used so tellingly in
the film of E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View.
This robs this beautiful aria of much of its charm and sincerity.
However it is the nightmarish vision of Bulliers nightclub
- the setting for Act II - which really disturbs. Surely Puccini
envisaged the 19th century elegance and romance
of Bullier’s chandelier-lit 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.
The plot is simple. Magda is an ageing courtesan
who dreams of one last romantic liaison. She meets and falls
in love, at Bulliers, with the young innocent Ruggero. Throwing
caution to the wind she runs away with him to an uncertain
and probably impecunious future. When he wants to
settle down to married life and produces a letter from his
mother saying she is eager to meet his virtuous girl, Magda
panics and, after confessing her past, leaves the heart-broken
Ruggero to return to her old life in Paris.
Cedolins’ dramatic performance improves in
Act II helped by a much more flattering costume and hairstyle;
she is also in more confident voice. Her love duets with Fernando
Portari as Ruggero, to some of Puccini’s most delicate and
magically romantic music are beautifully expressed and controlled.
Portari is a romantic if rather portly Ruggero. His Act III
aria Ma come puoi lasciarmi' (But how can you leave
me) as Magda breaks from him is most affecting. The second
leads shine. Emanuele Giannino’s Prunier, the urbane lounge
lizard who prompts Magda’s romantic dreaming at the beginning
of the opera, conveys just the right mix of wry irony, pomposity
and tenderness. Sandra Pastrani is a nicely coquettish Lisette,
Magda’s scheming maid and the object of Prunier’s affections.
She is an appealing lyric soprano.
The coolness of the audience applause at the
end of this production says it all. Until a more sympathetic production
of this lovely work turns up on DVD it is much better to invest
in the EMI recording with Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna
(5563382). It certainly appealed to the critics back in 1997.