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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La rondine (The Swallow) [101.51]
Dinara Alieva – Magda de Civry
Charles Castronovo – Ruggero Lastouc
Álvaro Zambrano – Prunier
Alexandra Hutton – Lisette
Stephen Bronk – Rambaldo Fernandez
Noel Bouley – Périchaud
Matthew Newlin – Godin
Thomas Lehmann – Crébillon,
Siobhan Stagg – Yvette
Elbenita Kajtazi – Bianca
Stephanie Lauricella – Suzy
Carlton Ford – Butler
Rolando Villazón – Stage director
Johannes Leiacker – Set designer
Brigitte Reiffenstuel – Costume designer
Davy Cunningham – Lighting designer
Silke Sense – Choreography
Elchin Muradov – Video producer
Ernestine Böttcher – Video director
Opernballett der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Statisterie der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin/William Spaulding
Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin/Roberto Rizzi Brignoli
rec. live, 14 & 18 March 2015, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Germany
Picture - 1080p
Sound - LPCM Stereo, 24/48; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0, 24/48
Subtitles: English, German, French
DELOS DV7011 Blu-ray [105.05]

This Delos release of La rondine, a Deutsche Oper Berlin production filmed live in March 2015, is directed by Rolando Villazón the renowned tenor who is making his Berlin debut as stage director.

In 1913 Puccini wrote to his friend and manager Baron Angelo Eisner in Vienna that he would never be able to write an operetta. Ironically, after Puccini’s difficulties in deciding how to follow La fanciulla del West he signed a commission in 1913 from the Carltheater for a Viennese operetta and La rondine emerged. Puccini insisted on a comic opera that would have no spoken dialogue and when the German libretto by Alfred Maria Willner and Heinz Reichert arrived he had Giuseppe Adami translate the text into Italian. The First World War put a stop to the originally intended Vienna première of La rondine and the first performance was given at Salle Garnier by the Opéra de Monte-Carlo in March 1917. Puccini was never fully satisfied with La rondine and revised the score a number of times and on one occasion he actually referred to the work as “This pig of an opera.”

Of Puccini’s mature operas La rondine with its bittersweet scenario is probably his most neglected but this is no reflection on its quality. Relatively lighter and having more of the operetta about it than the composer’s heavier masterpieces the score has been described as a cross between La Traviata and Die Fledermaus. It is certainly an opera that can make an impact and I fondly recall in 2006 attending an enchanting Opera North production at Alhambra Theatre, Bradford. Some commentators have written about the similarities of the scenario and general character between Puccini’s operas La bohème and La rondine which was completed some twenty years later. For example Magda could easily be Musetta a couple of decades in the future. The poet Prunier could be an older Rodolfo while Café Momus in La bohème is now a bar called Bullier’s.

Full of inspirational ideas Villazón brings the love story forward from the mid-late 19th century to the time of the roaring twenties in Paris. An example of Villazón’s use of symbolism is the trio of mime artists; a continual presence around Magda. These faceless men in cream suits with what look like matching fencing masks are a concept that has been described by Villazón as evoking the work of surrealist artist Giorgio De Chirico. I did rather become accustomed to these mysterious individuals whom I believe might represent Magda’s former lovers. Johannes Leiacker excels with his attractive and sumptuously colourful sets especially Bullier’s the colourfully boisterous Parisian bar. The oil painting of the reclining nude in giant frame which adorns almost the whole of the back wall of Magda’s salon in the first and in the final act, its silhouette cut-out of the cloudy blue sky of the French Riviera, is a successful idea. The little sandy cove together with rowing boat, giant shell and white garden furniture is simple but effective. All the cast wear striking and detailed clothes of the period designed by Brigitte Reiffenstuel. In line with Villazón’s aesthetics Lisette’s several costume changes are intended to reflect her “flexible, energy-laden personality” from Magda’s chambermaid to party girl through to sophisticated woman who “embodies freedom.”

Clothed in a number of stunning designer gowns and dresses Azerbaijani soprano Dinara Alieva gives an irresistible portrayal of Magda de Civry, mistress of Rambaldo Fernandez. The score’s most popular excerpt, Magda’s beautiful aria Che il bel sogno di Doretta appears in the opera’s first 10 minutes and Alieva doesn’t disappoint, delivering an excellent performance. The sound she produces is stylish and attractive with a glorious, smooth tone, effectively managing to harness her weighty vibrato. Comfortable throughout her high register, Alieva’s delivery of the words Che importa la ricchezza Se infine è rifiorita La felicità! (What is wealth without happiness!) sends a shiver down the spine. Alieva as the Parisian courtesan is such a convincing actress. Although in love with Ruggero she cannot leave her freedom behind. At the conclusion of the score with the words l'anima mia è con te, con te per sempre! (my soul is with you forever) Alieva places one of the cream fencing masks on the head of the kneeling Ruggero and slowly walks to the rear of the stage as the set darkens and the curtain drops.

American tenor Charles Castronovo plays the part of Ruggero Lastouc a young man new to Paris. Castronovo looks comfortable in his fashionable green striped blazer and pale flannels and is highly convincing as the unassuming love-struck suitor, naive in affairs of the heart. Ruggero’s rendition of Parigi è la città dei desideri (Paris is the city of desires) is striking and he sounds intoxicated with excitement on his first visit to Paris. There is expressive singing by Castronovo displaying a lovely, smooth and unaffected voice with a pleasing top. The supporting roles are well cast. Alexandra Hutton is in sparkling form as the convivial Lisette, as is youthful looking Álvaro Zambrano, the eccentric yet lovable poet Prunier, who favours wearing plus-fours.
Wealthy Parisian Rambaldo Fernandez the abandoned sugar-daddy is sung by Stephen Bronk. Decked out in blazer and cravat, the bass-baritone has a sturdy voice and reasonable stage presence. The Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin conducted by Roberto Rizzi Brignoli make a compelling combination and as one has come to expect, distinguished chorus master William Spaulding achieves expert results with his vocal forces.

Filmed in High Definition, the picture on this Blu-ray is produced to a high standard and there are no problems at all with the stereo and surround sound. In the comprehensive booklet there is a substantial essay ‘Some fights need to continue’ written by Villazón which explains his concept of staging La rondine. Included too is a detailed track listing and synopsis.

There are several DVDs/Blu-rays of La rondine in the catalogue led by Nicolas Joël’s 2009 New York Met production featuring Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna on Warner. I enjoyed Villazón’s captivating Deutsche Oper Berlin production which certainly stands comparison with the finest on film.

Michael Cookson

Previous review (DVD): Ian Lace




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