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Poster of Bal Bullier (1899) by Georges Meunier (1869-1942)
07 Dec 2008

PUCCINI: La Rondine — La Scala 1994

La Rondine: Commedia lirica in three acts.

G. Puccini: La Rondine

Magda de Civry (Denia Mazzola-Gavazzeni); Ruggero Lastouc (Pietro Ballo); Ramblado Fernandez (Antonio Salvadori); Lisette (Adelina Scarabelli); Prunier (Paolo Barbacini); Yvette (Anna Catarci); Bianca (Elisabetta Battaglia);Suzy (Claudine Nicole Bandera); Perichaud (Silvestro Sammaritano); Gobin (Roberto Donelli); Crebillon (Tino Nava); Georgette (Anna Zoroberto); Gabriella (Mimi Park); Lolette (Elisabetta Tandura); Rabonier (Aldo Bramante); Maggiordomo (Ernesto Panariello). Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala. Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor. Live performance: February 1994, Teatro alla Scala, Milan.

 

Music composed by Giacomo Puccini. Libretto by Giuseppe Adami after a libretto by A. M. Willner and Heinz Reichert.

First Performance: 27 March 1917, Monte Carlo, Théâtre de l’Opéra.

Principal Roles:
Magda de Civry Soprano
Lisette Soprano
Ruggero Lastouc Tenor
Prunier Tenor
Rambaldo Fernandez Baritone
Perichaud Baritone
Gobin Tenor
Crebillon Bass
Yvette Soprano
Bianca Soprano
Suzy Mezzo-Soprano

Setting: Paris, mid-19th century.

Synopsis:

Act I

Magda’s Parisian salon

Rambaldo Fernandez, a rich banker, is entertaining friends in the salon of his mistress, Magda. The center of attention, however, is the poet Prunier who entertains the crowd of young men and women with his gossip. “Love reigns again in Paris,” declares Prunier. Lisette, Magda’s maid, scoffs at Prunier’s thoughts of sentimental love, “We live in a hurry: ‘Do you want me?’ ‘I want you.’ That’s all!” Lisette gets on with her work as Prunier continues his discussion of love with Magda, Yvette, Suzy and Bianca. “Romance is all the rage, love-lorn glances, furtive hand-holding, kisses, sighs - but nothing more!” “Does the latest fad interest you?” asks Prunier. Magda is noncommital. Prunier calls the ‘latest fad’ a malady, an epidemic of madness, affecting the feminine population. “It takes you by surprise.” “No one is immune?” ask the ladies. “No one,” answers Prunier, “not even Doretta.” The ladies have never heard of ‘Doretta,’ who is Prunier’s latest heroine - a charming child struck down by this disease of romanticism. He has immortalized her in a song. Hearing that Prunier has composed a new song, the ladies clamour to hear it. He is reluctant but Magda insists. Calling the entire company to attention, Magda ushers Prunier to the piano. Upon hearing that the theme of this new song is ‘Love,’ Rambaldo comments, “That theme is hackneyed!” but Magda persists that they shall hear the song.

Prunier, playing the piano, introduces his song (Chi il bel sogno di Doretta). He tells the tale of a young woman who has a dream in which a king asks a maid to trust him, promising her all his riches. He begs her not to tremble, not to cry but she does not weep, she chooses to remain as she is, for no gold can purchase happiness. Prunier ceases playing. “Why don’t you go on?” asks Magda who had been enjoying the song, “There is no ending,” he says. “That is easy,” Magda joins him at the piano, “The challenge tempts me.” She takes up his song with words of her own (Chi il bel sogno di Doretta). Her ending is simple: one day a young student kisses Doretta so passionately that now she knows what passion is. Magda is so taken with her theme that the assembled crowd is quite moved. Prunier is impressed and all her friends express their appreciation of her poetry. Even Rambaldo, the practical man, is moved. Prunier thinks this proves his point: in every man’s breast lurks the romantic. Rambaldo is not pleased with this remark, declaring himself armed with holy water against this devil and presents to Magda a beautiful pearl necklace. She is surprised and tells him that love and happiness cannot be bought, however, she accepts the gift, causing Prunier to comment that his Doretta would never have done so.

Lisette comes in announcing the arrival of a young man, the son of one of Rambaldo’s childhood friends, who had called earlier but had not been admitted. Prunier remarks to Magda that she should get rid of such a maid but Magda says that Lisette brings a little sunshine into her life. This surprises Magda’s friends, who all comment that she has an enviable life, especially with one so generous as Rambaldo. “What’s the use of a fortune?” says Magda. She asks her friends if they have never dreamed of being a grisette? Magda mentions a time when she ran away from her old aunt, “Può darsi! Ma che non si dimenticano più!” and spent a few hours among students and midinettes at Bullier’s, a Paris nightspot. She recalls the singing: “Young woman, love is in bloom! Defend your heart! Kisses and the magic of smiles is paid for with tears.” She tells the story how a young man asked her name and she inscribed it on the marble tabletop. He wrote his next to hers. “There, among all the commotion, we looked deep into each other’s eyes, not saying a word.” If only she could relive those moments, thinks Magda. Prunier and the women put down Magda’s adventure to the old aunt, who must have been waiting, all alone at home, as the cause of Magda’s desire to escape - if even for so short a time. Prunier purposely mishears what the ladies have been saying, thinking they are describing the old aunt, and not the young lover, as having brown mustaches and drinking beer. “Not my type!” he says. “The woman who conquers me must correspond to my artistic taste. She must be refined and elegant. In short, worthy of me.” She must be a Galetea, a Berenice, a Francesca, a Salome, he says. The ladies laugh. Magda wants to know how he can tell whether the women he meets have the qualities he wants. “The destiny of every woman is marked in the palm of her hand,” answers Prunier. The ladies are intrigued and demand that Prunier read their palms. The group moves to a quiet corner.

Meanwhile, Ruggero Lastouc has returned and is finally shown in. He hands Rambaldo a letter of introduction from his father. Prunier announces a portentous future for Magda as he looks at her palm. Perhaps, like a swallow, she is destined to fly across the seas, he says, toward a sun-filled land of dreams, toward the sun, toward love. He hesitates. She worries that he sees an ill omen. “No, but destiny presents two faces, is it a smile or is it anguish? No one knows.” Rambaldo asks Ruggero if this is the first time he has come to Paris which, indeed, it is. Rambaldo interrupts Prunier’s palm-reading to ask if he knows of a place where young Ruggero would have a good time on his first evening in Paris. Prunier scoffs, saying the magic of a first evening in Paris is a myth. The assembled company toss out names of nightspots but it is Lisette’s suggestion, Bullier’s, which is taken up as the favorite. Yes, Ruggero must go to Bullier’s! “Love, joy and pleasure are there,” says Lisette. Magda seems transported back to her thoughts of the mysterious student she met years ago at Bullier’s. Ruggero leaves. Prunier comments that Ruggero possessed the perfumed flower of youth. “The air simple reeks with the smell of his lavender!” Rambaldo takes his leave too, followed by Périchaud, Bianca, Yvette, Gobin, then Crébillon, Prunier and Suzy. Magda is alone.

When Lisette returns from showing the guests out, Magda orders a carriage. Her only thoughts are of Prunier’s words: “Like a swallow I will migrate across the seas toward a sun-filled land of dreams.” She thinks of Bullier’s and goes into her boudoir. With Magda gone, Prunier re-enters. He has come to get Lisette, with whom he is having an affair (T’amo!). Declaring his love, he also tells Lisette that she is not worthy of a poet like him, “Only rich women can be loved by the likes of me, but instead I am yours!” As they are about to leave, Prunier takes a dislike to her hat. “It’s my lady’s finest,” replies the maid but Prunier insists that she change it, as it does not match the rest of her outfit. Alone, Prunier muses on his situation (Nove Muse, a voi perdono), asking the muses to pardon him for his actions. He loves her and cannot reason. Lisette returns with a new hat but this time Prunier asks her to change her coat for the black silk cloak she had on the night before. Again, he muses on his situation. “But I cannot abandon her, no matter how aesthetic I am.”

Magda comes out of her boudoir dressed as a grisette. Thinking of Prunier’s Doretta and knowing no one will recognize her, she departs for Bullier’s.

Act II

At Bullier’s

Crowds of people are enjoying themselves at Bullier’s (Fiori freschi!). Women sell flowers, couples dance, students drink and pick up girls, lovers are kissing. The champagne is flowing, as a group of grisettes discuss men and love. A group of students notice a hesitant figure approaching. It is Magda. They cluster around, prompting her to agree that she already has a date. They see her look at Ruggero as he enters the restaurant. Assuming the young man is whom she was waiting for, they bring her to him. Magda begs his pardon for her intrusion (Scusatemi, scusate) and Ruggero asks her not to leave. He tells her that she seems different from the other girls here. She sits down. She reminds him of the girls from Montauban, who are all smiles and youth when they dance to an old song. When she seems to not fully understand his comment, he tells her that the girls of Montauban are very beautiful but simple and modest. “Unlike the girls here, in Paris, they need only a simple flower in their hair as adornment.” When Magda wishes she could dance like the girls of Montauban, Ruggero asks her if she would like to dance with him and the two join the crowd of dancers, lost in a dream of intoxicating love (Nella dolce carezza della danza).

Prunier and Lisette enter and join in the dancing while Magda and Ruggero return to their table. She says that she is thirsty and Ruggero orders them two bocks. “Quickly, Quickly,” cries Magda, “could I ask a favor? When the waiter returns, could you pay him 20 sous and tell him to keep the change?” Ruggero does not understand the request, but acquiesces. Ruggero proposes a toast: to your health. Magda proposes her own: to your loves! “Don’t say that,” replies Ruggero, “If I were to love, then it would be only one, and for as long as I live.” “For as long as I live,” repeats Magda. Ruggero comments that he does not even know his new friend’s name. As she had done years ago, she scribbles a name - Paulette - on the tabletop. Ruggero, in turn, writes his next to hers. “Now something of ours will remain,” says Magda but Ruggero answers, “No, they will wipe it away, but the thought of you will remain with me.” Magda tells him that fortune has brought her to him. Ruggero confesses that he knows nothing of her but does not feel that she is a stranger (Io non so chi siate voi). “You are the creature my heart has been waiting for!” Magda is overcome. They kiss.

Lisette cries out “Look, it’s my mistress!” pointing to Magda. Knowing full-well that it is her indeed, Prunier tells Lisette that the wine has gone to her head, but as she insists that this woman and her mistress are one and the same, Prunier asks if she wants proof. They walk toward the table. Lisette now recognizes Ruggero. Prunier introduces himself and Lisette to Ruggero, telling her that this is the young man from earlier in the evening but that the young lady is certainly not her mistress. “You are drunk!” Prunier asks Ruggero to introduce his young lady to them. “My friend, Paulette.” “Are you convinced?” asks Prunier of Lisette, as he introduces himself to ‘Paulette.’ Lisette tells Ruggero that her mistress is exactly like this girl, were she elegantly dressed. Magda laughs, commenting that Lisette seems to be elegantly dressed herself. “It doesn’t cost much,” replies Lisette, “everything belongs to my mistress.” “That is very imprudent!” says Magda. Prunier self-consciously laughs out loud and Magda takes the opportunity to ask if this woman, her maid, is his Salome or his Berenice? “Perhaps Lisette can chose to imitate the one or the other,” she slyly remarks. Ruggero offers a toast: “Let us drink to love!” The two couples drink, then Ruggero toasts Magda. “I drink to your fresh smile. I drink to your profound desires and to your lips, which have uttered my name.” (Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso). To Magda, this evening is the fulfillment of her dream. Lisette and Prunier exchange words of love for each other while Ruggero and Magda swear to stay together forever.

Suddenly, Prunier catches sight of Rambaldo. Magda begs Ruggero to leave, but Prunier has a plan. As Rambaldo heads toward the table, Prunier tells Magda to go, to leave him to explain but she would not do so. Prunier asks her to think about what she is doing. “When you love, you don’t think,” replies Magda. Rambaldo asks to speak alone with Magda. He has brought along her necklace which she so casually left lying around her salon. “What’s the meaning of this?” he demands. “I have nothing to add to what you’ve already seen,” she replies. Rambaldo, in a more conciliatory tone, tells her it was nothing serious and asks her to leave with him. “I’m staying, I love him, let me follow my destiny, leave me, it’s over.” Rambaldo, telling her he hopes she never regrets this, departs. Ruggero returns to the table, “And now it is morning. Where shall we go?” He notices that Magda is upset.

Act III

A seaside hotel garden on Cote d’Azur

Ruggero and Magda are enjoying a quiet moment in their seaside garden. Magda comments on the heavenly scent of the flowers, “Tell me again that I still please you.” “Everything about you, my love, pleases me.” Magda hopes that the solitude is not too much for him, but he tells her that he is not alone. Magda speaks of their love being born among the flowers - the flowers at Bullier’s. Ruggero tells her she deserves something special today. He will tell her a secret: he has written to his parents asking them for money and for consent to their marriage. “You did that?” asks Magda, “I didn’t know, I didn’t expect it.” She asks Ruggero to tell her everything. “If I love you and you love me, then let it be forever! You are not just a lover, Magda, you are love itself” (E laggiù non sapevo). He asks that she accompany him to his home, kisses her, then leaves. Magda is in a quandary - should she tell him all about her past or keep quiet?

Lisette and Prunier enter, unsure that they have the right place. Lisette berates Prunier for ruining her. He had wanted to make her a singer but failed. Prunier has promised, if at all possible, to bring her back to her old life. Lisette is extremely nervous, totally overwrought, due to her stage experiences. “All my illusions are gone,” she tells him. As they quarrel, Magda enters. She is touched that they remember their old Parisian friend. Prunier, ever the cynic, asks if she is still happy. “Entirely.” He tells her that all Paris still talks about what happened, adding that few believe it. Magda asks why. “Because this isn’t the life for you.” Magda is extremely hurt by his comments. She quickly changes the subject, asking why they have come. Prunier explains that the theatre in Nice decided the previous night that Lisette was not to its liking. “She wants to return to you as a maid.” Magda is pleased to have her back and soon learns that Prunier is only acting on behalf of someone, presumably Rambaldo, who has heard of her financial plight and is ready to help. Prunier acts as if he is taking his leave of both Magda and Lisette forever, but quickly, with Magda’s permission, asks Lisette what time she gets off from work that evening. He will be waiting.

Ruggero has received a letter from his mother. He notices Magda’s changed attitude, “Did you think she wouldn’t consent?” He presses the letter into her hands. Magda reads the letter in which his mother writes “May the Lord bless the sweet creature whom He sent to you. She will be the mother of your children. It is motherhood which sanctifies love. If you know she is good, mild, pure and possesses all the virtues, then she is blessed.” His mother asks Ruggero to embrace his future wife for her; she is anxious for their return. “Here is my mother’s kiss” but Magda confesses that she cannot receive it. “I cannot erase my past, I cannot enter your house.” Ruggero is not interested in her past, “You are mine, that is all.” Magda tells him she lived among shame and gold, as Ruggero begs her not to continue. “I can be a lover, but never a wife.” Ruggero cannot live without her, she is destroying his life but she persists “Because I love you, I will not be your ruin.” Ruggero begs her to stay. “Say nothing more, let this pain be mine,” says Magda, as she leaves the side of the crying Ruggero.

[Synopsis Source: Wikipedia]

Click here for the complete libretto.

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