(1858-1924) La rondine (The swallow) - commedia lirica in three
Magda de Civry, a kept woman - Svetla Vassileva (soprano); Lisette,
her maid - Maya Dashuk (soprano); Prunier, a poet - Emmanuele Giannino
(tenor); Ruggero - Fabio Sartori (tenor); Rambaldo - Magda’s
protector - Marzio Glossi (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus
of the Puccini Festival/Albert Veronesi
Director: Lorenzo Amato.
Set and Costume Designer: Nall
Video Director: Matteo Riccheti
rec. live, 53rd Puccini Festival, Torre del Lago, Italy,
8, 10, 16 August 2007, Edition Casa Musicale Sonzogno
Picture format: NTSC 16:9. Dual Layer Disc. Sound format: PCM Stereo,
Dolby Digital 5.1.
Menu language, English. Subtitles: English and Italian
Performed in the Edition BMG Ricordi Music Publishing NAXOS OPERA DVD
Puccini was the epitome of the urbane Italian man of the turn
of the nineteenth century. He made friends easily across social
classes and was widely accepted as the foremost Italian composer
of the day. But he had vices. The simple one of smoking doubtless
contributed to a relatively early death. More complex was his
sex life. He tempted another man’s wife to live with him
and then constantly cheated on her until his death. This constant
womanising meant much domestic strife as well as claims of paternity
relationships that persist to this day. Consequently his domestic
life was generally stressful and was certainly not conducive
Puccini also had difficulty in deciding on suitable plays for
his operatic subjects and working with librettists as I outline
in my review of his third opera Manon Lescaut (see review).
The difficulties with the libretto of that opera had the advantage
of introducing him to Giuseppe Giacosa and the poet Luigi Illica
who were responsible for Puccini’s three greatest operatic
masterpieces, La boheme (1896), Tosca (1900) and
Madama Butterfly (1904). The gap between the composition
of these operas, particularly compared to Verdi at a similar
stage of his career, let alone Rossini and Donizetti, is a measure
of his personality and lifestyle. After Madama Butterfly,
and its re-write, his next work was his first Metropolitan Opera
premiere, La Fanciulla del West (1910) featuring a star-studded
cast including Caruso. Puccini had really arrived. In it Puccini
made his own inroads into the avant-garde. At this juncture
he was at a crossroads in his compositional career. Always aware
of contemporary musical developments he had begun to feel the
pressure of the modernists and realised he could not return
to the style of his great triumvirate.
During a visit to Vienna in the autumn of 1913 to attend the
local premiere of La Fanciulla del West the directors
of Vienna's Car-Theater offered Puccini a generous fee to compose
a Viennese operetta. The idea appealed, as he believed the involvement
of spoken dialogue would involve him in writing less music.
After a change of heart he said his new work would take the
form of a comic opera with no spoken dialogue in the style of
Rosenkavalier. Earlier Giulio Ricordi, who had seen him
through his difficult early years died and his son Tito took
over the business. Tito was less inclined to tolerate Puccini’s
dilettante ways and his proposal for an operetta did not meet
the Ricordi ideal. Consequently Ricordi’s business rival
Sonzogno published La rondine. It is the only work by
the composer not published by Ricordi.
As was usual with Puccini, work was slow and versions of the
libretto refused. Then in August 1914 Europe was engulfed in
the conflagration of the First World War and by the time La
rondine was finished in 1916, Italy and Austria were on
opposite sides and a premiere in Vienna out of the question.
After appropriate compromises and manoeuvring by Sonzogno, the
work was premiered in Monte Carlo on 27 March 1917 with Tito
Schipa as Ruggero; it was not seen in Vienna until 1920. But
La Rondine failed to secure a place in the repertory.
There were no heart-rending deaths which were expected of the
composer’s works! Puccini had second and third thoughts
and busied himself transposing and modifying. Roles such as
those of Prunier became a baritone before reverting to tenor.
Puccini also added an entrance aria for Ruggero, included here
(Ch.10) and made major alterations to act three. The finale,
used in this version, his third, is that in which Ruggero leaves
Magda, not the reverse as in the first version.
Although the orchestration is not as dense as Puccini’s
earlier works, the melodic structure is unmistakably his. Despite
that, La rondine has never had massive popular appeal.
For much of the twentieth century it was considered one of Puccini's
less successful works The 1996 EMI recording under Antonio Pappano
and featuring Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna put it more
on the map (EMI 556338 2), as did the subsequent production
at London’s Royal Opera House. The latter production was
seen at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House in 2009 and
was broadcast worldwide, again with Gheorghiu as Magda. It will
probably appear on DVD later in the year. In the UK a production
by Opera North uses the same third version as this performance
and is reviewed
in MusicWeb International’s Seen and Heard. This
performance from Torre del Lago is the first time the work has
been seen at the Puccini Festival for twenty years. It is Lorenzo
Amato’s first shot at opera production.
Act one (Chs.2-13) is set at a cocktail party in Magda's salon.
In this production the set is simple with decorative screens
to the side and a rear stage with a large screen on which are
projected a variety of images. The costumes are opulent and
elegant Second Empire with the ladies in full length and full-skirted
dresses. The stage is used for the ballet dancers who appear
throughout the production. Prunier declares that love is in
the air. He begins singing his latest song, which Magda completes
with the most famous aria of the opera Chi il bel sogno di
Doretta (Ch.4). Magda laments that as the kept woman of
Rambaldo, she does not know true love; she recalls her youth,
her aunt, and a young student she met and loved briefly. Rambaldo
her protector brings her gifts whilst her maid Lisette brings
in a young man with a letter of introduction (Chs.9-10). The
young man, Ruggero, explains himself and his interest in life
in Paris and particularly asks where is the best place to spend
an evening in the city (Ch.10). The guests agree it is the cabaret
at Bullier's. After the guests leave, Prunier returns declares
his love for Lisette and secretly invites her to the cabaret.
Later, Magda, on a whim, disguises herself and also goes (Ch.13).
The second act (Chs.14-22) is set at Bullier's. The costumes
are bright and multi-coloured and the dancers somewhat idiosyncratically
dressed in bikinis and the like, hardly Second Empire. The set
and colourings are somewhat off-beat. Perhaps these reflect
Magda’s dreams of true love. Certainly they’re no
longer Second Empire. Everyone is singing and dancing. The disguised
Magda, calling herself Paulette, meets Ruggero who explains
he is from Montauban (Ch.15). The dancers do their waltz as
the couple declare their love (Ch.16). Lisette recognizes Magda,
but Prunier tells her she is mistaken. At the table, Lisette
confesses to borrowing Magda's clothing and jewellery. Rambaldo
enters, and Magda quietly has Prunier hide Ruggero. In a confrontation
(Ch.21) Rambaldo demands an explanation. Magda explains that
this is true love and she wants to stay with Ruggero and leave
him. After Rambaldo leaves, Ruggero returns, and the couple
declare their love whilst Magda sings of being afraid of her
Act three opens with a prelude, the music being accompanied
by the dancers (Ch.23). Magda and Ruggero are living in a simple
cottage near the sea. He has no idea how they will pay their
mounting bills and he tells her that he has written to his parents
for permission to marry her (Ch.24) declaring his true love
in the aria Dimmi che vuoi seguirmi (Ch.26) whilst Magda’s
face betrays her agony as she knows that she can never marry
him because of her past. Prunier and Lisette arrive (Ch.27).
Lisette has had a disastrous and brief career as an actress,
constantly criticized by Prunier; she begs for her job back,
and Magda consents (Ch.28). Rambaldo wants her back, and tells
her that she cannot maintain a life here and shows her the money
in his wallet that he leaves behind. Ruggero returns with the
letter permitting the marriage, but Magda finally tells him
all. He flings the money and accuses Magda of bringing dishonour
on him and leaves. Like a swallow, she returns to her cage,
literally as a large one is wheeled onto the stage.
So much of the success of any performance revolves around the
role of Magda. Whilst Gheorghiu has made a name for herself
in the role, in this performance Svetla Vassileva at least matches
her vocally and gives a totally committed acted performance
as well. She puts her whole body and face into her acting whilst
her phrasing, legato and vocal expression are first rate; a
consummate portrayal. Her fellow East European Maya Dashuk is
lively and sparkling as the servant cum aspiring actress Lisette.
Her singing and acting are good if not on the highest level
of Vassileva. In the lead tenor role of Ruggero, Fabio Sartori
has a pleasing tenor voice and matches his Magda for expressive
phrasing, Svetla Vassileva has a clear vocal line and appealing
tone. His is hardly the figure du part of the young ardent
lover whilst his acting is too often off the semaphore variety.
Nonetheless his clear Italianate vocal squilla is welcome.
In the lesser tenor role of the poet Prunier, Emmanuele Giannino
sings with good diction and clarity but lacks tonal appeal.
His older looks are appropriate to the role. Marzio Glossi as
Rambaldo sings strongly but lacks variety of vocal colour. The
orchestra play well under Albert Veronesi’s flexible baton.
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John Quinn Seen & Heard Editor Emeritus Bill Kenny Editor in Chief
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