Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

The Met’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ a happy marriage of ensemble singing and acting

The cast of supporting roles was especially strong in the company’s new production of Mozart’s matchless masterpiece

Syracuse Opera’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ bubbles over with fun, laughter and irresistible music

The company uncorks its 40th Anniversary season with a visually and musically satisfying production of Johann Strauss Jr.’s farcical operetta

Capriccio at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Although performances of Richard Strauss’s last opera Capriccio have increased in recent time, Lyric Opera of Chicago has not experienced the “Konversationsstück für Musik” during the past twenty odd years.

Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’

The former lyric soprano holds up well — and survives the intrusive close-up camerawork of the ‘Live in HD’ transmission

Arizona Opera Presents First Mariachi Opera

Houston Grand Opera commissioned Cruzar la Cara de la Luna from composer José “Pepe” Martínez, music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, who wrote the text together with Broadway and opera director Leonard Foglia. The work had its world premier in 2010. Since then, it has traveled to several cities including Paris, Chicago, and San Diego.

Plácido Domingo: I due Foscari, London

“Why should I go to hear Plácido Domingo” someone said when Verdi’s I due Foscari was announced by the Royal Opera House. There are very good reasons for doing so.

Philip Glass’s The Trial

Music Theatre Wales presented the world premiere of Philip Glass’s The Trial (Kafka) last night at the Linbury, Royal Opera House. Music Theatre Wales started doing Glass in 1989. Their production of Glass’s In the Penal Colony in 2010 was such a success that Glass conceived The Trial specially for the company.

Joyce DiDonato: Alcina, Barbican, London

To say that the English Concert’s performance of Handel’s Alcina at the Barbican on 10 October 2014 was hotly anticipated would be an understatement. Sold out for weeks, the performance capitalised on the draw of its two principals Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote and generated the sort of buzz which the work did at its premiere.

Un ballo in maschera in San Francisco

The subject is regicide, a hot topic during the Italian risorgimento when the Italian peninsula was in the grip of the Hapsburgs, the Bourbons, the House of Savoy and the Pontiff of the Catholic Church.

A New Don Giovanni and Anniversary at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its sixtieth anniversary season with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni directed by Artistic Director of the Goodman Theater, Robert Falls.

Grande messe des morts, LSO

It was a little over two years ago that I heard Sir Colin Davis conduct the Berlioz Requiem in St Paul’s Cathedral; it was the last time I heard — or indeed saw — him conduct his beloved and loving London Symphony Orchestra.

Guillaume Tell, Welsh National Opera

Part of their Liberty or Death season along with Rossini’s Mose in Egitto and Bizet’s Carmen, Welsh National Opera performed David Pountney’s new production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (seen 4 October 2014).

Mose in Egitto, Welsh National Opera

Welsh National Opera’s production of Rossini’s Mose in Egitto was the second of two Rossini operas (the other is Guillaume Tell) performed in tandem for their autumn tour.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, Barbican Hall

In Monteverdi’s first Venetian opera, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (1641), Penelope’s patient devotion as she waits for the return of her beloved Ulysses culminates in the triumph of love and faithfulness; in contrast, in L’incoronazione di Poppea it is the eponymous Queen’s lust, passion and ambition that prevail.

Rameau’s Les Paladins, Wigmore Hall

After the triumphs of love, the surprises: Les Paladins, under their director Jérôme Correas, and soprano Sandrine Piau are following their tour of material from their 2011 CD, ‘Le Triomphe de L’amour’, with a new amatory arrangement.

Puccini : The Girl of the Golden West, ENO London

At the ENO, Puccini's La fanciulla del West becomes The Girl of the Golden West. Hearing this opera in English instead of Italian has its advantages, While we can still hear the exotic, Italianate Madama Butterfly fantasies in the orchestra, in English, we're closer to the original pot-boiler melodrama. Madama Biutterfly is premier cru: The Girl of the Golden West veers closer, at times, to hokum. The new ENO production gets round the implausibility of the plot by engaging with its natural innocence.

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

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):