Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

Pietro Mascagni: Iris

There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the relaxed mood of the summer evening.

L’italiana in Algeri, Garsington Opera

George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely have delighted Liberace.

Carmen in San Francisco

Calixto Bieito is always news, Carmen with a good cast is always news. So here is the news.

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera

Distinguished theatre director Michael Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane and Alexandre bis

Although Bohuslav Martinů’s short operas Ariane and Alexandre bis date from 1958 and 1937 respectively, there was a distinct tint of 1920s Parisian surrealism about director Rodula Gaitanou’s double bill, as presented by the postgraduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Lohengrin, Dresden

The eyes of the opera world turned recently to Dresden—the city where Wagner premiered his Rienzi, Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser—for an important performance of Lohengrin. For once in Germany it was not about the staging.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Angela Gheorghiu as Magda [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
07 Jan 2009

La Rondine at the MET

The first thing that hits you about the Met’s production of La Rondine is the beauty of the sets and costumes (from the classy team of Ezio Frigerio and Franca Squarciapino, respectively) — especially in contrast to the tawdry glitz of the recent Thaïs.

G. Puccini: La Rondine

Magda: Angela Gheorghiu; Lisette: Lisette Oropesa; Ruggero: Roberto Alagna; Prunier: Marius Brenciu. Conducted by Marco Armiliato. Metropolitan Opera. Performance of January 3.

Above: Angela Gheorghiu as Magda

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera.

 

Someone spent money on this thing, which originated at Covent Garden. Gustav Klimt at his grandest has evidently muraled Magda’s intimate salon (probably while seducing Magda and her maid, if I know Gustav), the casual student café of Act II is suitable to some grand hotel on the Place Vendôme, and the Riviera inn where Ruggero and Magda hole up in Act III has become an art nouveau orangerie of stained glass grape arbor three stories high. Overproduction adds undeniable pleasure to the Met experience, however it may undercut the small-scale work at hand by raising expectations that will not be fulfilled.

La Rondine is often called Puccini’s Viennese operetta. The inspiration was, indeed, a Viennese libretto, set in sophisticated France, dealing with sophisticated emotions — none of its lovers would think of picking up a dagger or making a public scene; they’re not into “drama” — which is pretty funny for characters in a Puccini opera. A rich man’s elegant mistress feels restless, takes up with a young lover, realizes settling down with him to a bourgeois life is not her style, and returns — like the swallow of the title — to her nest. True love won’t keep you in Klimts or emeralds, honey. Regrets. The road not taken. No call for the undertaker or the priest.

The scale is intimate, the emotions internal, and the musical setting is intimate too, lilting and sensuous and utterly beguiling. (This is opera in the twentieth century?) It works sublimely on the small screen — my first experience of La Rondine was a television movie starring Teresa Stratas. Angela Gheorghiu compares well to Stratas as a beauty and as an actress (high compliments, these). I suspect her intimate looks and sighs will play even better in HDTV, and that her detailed acting was designed for Covent Garden, which is half the size of the Met. She had not warmed up properly to possess “Che il bel sogno di Doretta,” the opera’s one big aria, but that’s Puccini’s fault for putting it two minutes after curtain rise so he can go on recollecting it all evening. For the quartet in Act II and the love duet in Act III, Gheorghiu was more than prepared. It is not a voice of Tebaldi or Price size, but she has her own polished way with a Puccini phrase, and his bloom suits hers much better than, say, Donizetti, where (with fewer instruments to conceal her?) she can sound arch and stretched.

RONDINE_Alagna_Gheorghiu_67.pngAngela Gheorghiu as Magda and Roberto Alagna as Ruggero

Her partner is Roberto Alagna, of course, and they certainly play and sing lovers convincingly together. But Ruggero offers the tenor so little that you wonder why Gigli bothered with it — the standout tenor part is the secondo uomo, the poet Prunier, and here Marius Brenciu, in his first Met appearances, was light and suave with a very pleasing run up to head voice when called for. His amie of the night was Lisette Oropesa, a Met Young Artist alumna, who played Magda’s chirpy maid, having an affair with the poet, going for a big break in cabaret and, failing, returning to her old nest — no Adele audition for this gal. Oropesa has personality but her voice, on this brief exposure, did not. The quartet for the paired and (as we do not yet know) ill-fated lovers was delicious, and their story has that fragrant pessimism that afflicts late Lehar (whose librettists drafted this story too). Love excuses everything in Act I, but let’s be real — it always dissipates before the final curtain.

RONDINE_Brenciu_as_Prunier_.pngMarius Brenciu as Prunier

What the world wants now is a new Puccini opera. La Rondine is not new, of course, but the brand is right, and it’s never been popular, so it’s ripe for discovery. Singers of Magda and Ruggero need fear no comparison with the interpretations of Callas and Pavarotti, because they never sang it, and hardly anyone alive remembers Bori or Gigli. The opera contains little familiar music — though, in a sense, all of it is familiar — aside from “Il sogno di Doretta,” which no lyric soprano worth her salt can resist. (When Gheorghiu sings it, it is difficult not to sigh for Leontyne Price, but she had time to warm up, as she never sang the entire opera.)

No one living is going to write two hours of new Puccini (though heaven knows Andrew Lloyd-Webber and several movie composers would if they could), and that is really what the new audience discovering opera (and eagerly courted by Peter Gelb) wants: a Puccini opera to discover for themselves. There have even been productions of Edgar, which hasn’t even got a great showpiece tune to commend itself. My advice to opera companies courting this crowd is the great number of neglected but lovely works by Puccini’s contemporaries and rivals, just waiting for the right singers and a production like this one. Okay, there are howlers like Francesca da Rimini or Sly or Cyrano, which even a Scotto or a Domingo couldn’t save, but there are also fascinating scores like Cristoforo Colombo (Franchetti), Cassandra (Gnecchi), La Fiamma (Respighi), L’Oracolo (Leoni), Il Piccolo Marat (Mascagni), L’Amore dei Tre Re (Montemezzi). Take a chance. (It would help if there were a proper verismo soprano around to sing them, I grant you — no, I can’t think of one either.)

RONDINE_scene_3422a.pngLisette Oropesa as Lisette (foreground) in a scene from Act I

But I never leave La Rondine, even a performance as glamorous and charming as this one, without feeling unsatisfied, shortchanged — as if there has not been enough feeling, enough melodious anguish, as if the company should complete the evening somehow, with Il Tabarro, say, or scenes from Tosca or Manon Lescaut — something to fulfill the expectations raised by Puccinian melody from the very first chord.

La Rondine is an appetizer, or tapas perhaps — it’s not a full entrée, never mind dessert.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):