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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Rondine - Lyrical comedy in three acts (1917)
Magda – Dinara Alieva (soprano)
Ruggero – Charles Castronovo (tenor)
Lisette – Alexandra Hutton (soprano)
Prunier – Alvaro Zambrano (tenor)
Rambaldo – Stephen Bronk (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin/Roberto Rizzi Brignoli
rec. live, Deutsche Oper Berlin, 14, 18 March 2015
PCM Stereo, DTS 5.0
DELOS DV7010 DVD [105.01]

This reviewer is over eighty and an unashamed romantic. I admit to this outdated attitude because it colours my prejudice against unsympathetic presentations of some modern operatic productions. I detest any tinkering with late-romantic and often sentimental works by such composers as Puccini, Dvořák and Korngold. In the past, on this site, I have savaged such productions of Die tote Stadt and Rusalka. This time I have to turn my guns on this rather ugly presentation of La Rondine. Apparently Villazón wanted to update its message to appeal to modern audiences. Has this age become that unfeeling, that cynical? I cringed when viewing the decadent Berlin cabaret style of Act II. How Puccini, who was very fussy about every aspect of his operas, would have loathed such a liberty. Only Villazón’s idea of the last act (see below) has merit and some taste.
I have consistently championed this neglected Puccini hybrid that is neither a satisfactory opera nor a proper operetta. It dies however have charm aplenty and some very attractive melodies. These can be heard in true Puccinian soaring lyricism right at the beginning of Act I and throughout Act II. In the year 2000 I wrote a comparative review of available audio recordings at that time which included a lengthy discussion of La Rondine and this might interest readers who would like more information about the work. Since 2000, there have been a number of DVD releases both new and historic (review).

Here the sets are gaudy. Too much is heavy-handed. There is a lack of subtlety. A gigantic backcloth portrait of a reclining nude dominates the set of Act I and the courtesans wander around in dressing gowns. Magda is surrounded by three ghostly figures wearing blank white masks covering the whole of their heads; presumably they represent her past lovers. They appear over and over again, throughout the three acts sometimes in absurd positions, so much so that they thoroughly irritate. Prunier is reduced to something of a fey poseur. As I mentioned, Act II abominates. The students are old roués and the females similarly debauched. Only Act III seems to have merit in that it is simplified, the solution eased in that Magda simply leaves the lovelorn Ruggero when their money runs out and she realises his mother will see through her. This has to be rubbed in when Magda puts another white head-mask over Ruggero’s head as she rejoins Prunier and Lisette.

It is all really a waste of the talents of the principals. Dinara Alieva makes a persuasive Magda. Her timbre is sweetly dusky with strong unwavering projection and she is ably matched by the ardent innocence of Castronovo’s Ruggero. La Rondine productions are more often than not blessed with outstanding castings of Lisette. Here Alexandra Hutton is splendidly worldly-wise and coquettish. Zambrano also makes a reasonable fist of Prunier despite the absurdity of his character depiction. The chorus and orchestra are pleasant and are captured in warm clear sound.

For me the outstanding productions of La Rondine have to be the wonderful Gheorghiu and Alagna (EMI DVD 6316189 - review). For a nicely sentimental visual treat I recommend the Decca with Ainhoa Arteta as Magda and Marcus Haddock as Ruggero (0743335 - review).

This production, all in all, is just ugly.

Ian Lace



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