La rondine


Giacomo Puccini La rondine opera to libretto by Giuseppe Adami. Directed 2008 by Graham Vick at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. Stars Fiorenza Cedolins (Magda), Fernando Portari (Ruggero), Sandra Pastrana (Lisette), Emanuele Giannino (Prunier), Stefano Antonucci (Rambaldo), George Mosley (Périchaud), Iorio Zennaro (Gobin), Giuseppe Nicodemo (Crébillon), Andrea Zaupa (Majordomo), Sabrina Vianello (Yvette), Giacinta Nicotra (Bianca), Annika Kaschenz (Suzy), Ferruccio Basei, Marco Rumori, Luca Favaron, Dionigi D'Ostuni, Massimo Squizzato, Do Schunesson, Roberto Menegazzo, Domenico Altobelli (Eight youth), Chiara Dal Bo', Gabriella Pellos (Two Women), Ciro Passilongo, Manuela Marchetto (Two lovers), Sabrina Oriana Mazzamuto (Georgette), Elisa Savino (Gabriella), Anna Malvasio (Lolette), Claudio Zancopè (Rabonnier), Emanuela Conti, Francesca Poropat, Paola Rossi (Three girls), and Antonella Meridda (Distant voice). Carlo Rizzi conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice (Chorus Master: Emanuela Di Pietro). Sets by Peter J. Davison; costumes by Sue Willmington; lighting by Peter Kaczorowski;  choreography by Ron Howell with the Acrobatic Swing Dance, Venezia. Directed for TV by Tiziano Mancini. Released 2009, disc has 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: B+

Puccini is revered as Godfather of the  tear-jerker opera. With La rondine he entered, per Conrad Wilson in his succinct biography Giaocomo Puccini, "operatic territory [he] had hitherto avoided---that of gentle tragi-comedy." This is a scaled-down, short work with limited objectives. It has to be produced with a light touch and enjoyed accordingly. It hasn't often been staged, because tear jerker light is not what people expect from Puccini. But we are lucky now to have this excellent Arthaus recording of a skillful revival of La rondine as the opening title for the 2008 season of La Fenice.

While Puccini and Adami were working on La rondine, all of Europe was suffering the convulsions of WWI. This was perhaps not a time for ground-breaking originality---in fact, what we have is yet another variation on the story of Marie Duplessis, the original fallen girl (la traviata) who was a courtesan in Paris in 1846 and died at the at age 22. This whole opera reminds one of motion pictures that become cult favorites because they are packed with references to earlier famous movies. So here from La Traviata we have the beautiful but unhappy courtesan with a wealthy sponsor, the fling with the innocent young man, the idyll in the country, the bankruptcy, and the breakup of the impossible romance. From La Bohème we have a second act at a raucous Paris night club, an older man trying to mentor an aspiring singer, a stranger who gets stuck paying a big bill, and the famous off-stage voice effect (that ends Act I in La Bohème and is used for the last note in La Rondine). From Die Fledermaus we see the mistress and saucy servant girl show up at the same party with the servant decked out in her lady's best clothes.

All this makes for a lot of laughs in the first two acts, so we know that the outcome in Act III can't be too grim. Well, our heroine realizes that she can't escape her past and must return to her rich sponsor. The young man is heart-broken but learns a valuable lesson: if you want to get the girl you love, you first have to be able to afford her. He will probably do a lot better on this next try, which will probably come along before three moons have a chance to smile on Paris.

Everything about this show and the Arthaus dics is fine by the standards of opera productions today. Fiorenza Cedolins does as well as she possibly could (as Madga) considering her age, matronly figure, and sagging arms. Fernando Portari (as Ruggero) is another bloated tenor who would do himself a big favor by working for a year  as a lumberjack or on a fishing boat. All the other singers were excellent for their roles. The video and sound recording is excellent, and we think the director and conductor did a good job of applying the light touch needed for this "gentle" work.

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