Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.



Giacomo Puccini: La Rondine
08 Mar 2010

Puccini: La Rondine

Throughout his relatively long and decidedly successful career, Giacomo Puccini returned to those operas of his that had not, immediately or eventually, secured an important place in the standard repertory.

Giacomo Puccini: La Rondine

Magda: Svetla Vassileva; Lisette: Maya Dashuk; Ruggero: Fabio Sartori; Prunier: Emanuele Giannino; Rambaldo: Marzio Giossi; Périchaud: Fernando Ciuffo; Gobin: Giorgio Berrugi; Crébillon: Andrea Patucelli; Yvette: Polina Volfson; Bianca: Alessandra Meozzi; Suzy: Annunziata Vestri; Fleury: Katia De Sarlo; Mariette: Chang Chiung Wen; Roro: Elisabetta Lombardo; Un maggiordomo: Alessando Manghesi. Puccini Festival Chorus and Orchestra. Alberto Veronesi, conductor. Recorded live from the 53rd Puccini Festival, Torre del Lago, Italy, on 8, 10 and 16 August 2007.

Naxos 2.110266 [DVD]

$29.49  Click to buy

In blunter terms — his failures. He never got Edgar into any kind of shape to save it from obscurity, although the Puccini name still managed to get the opera recorded a time or two, and a recent “discovery” of some alternative material led to a production, available on DVD, with Jose Cura in the lead. With La Rondine, the “Traviata-lite” story of a pampered, kept woman (Magda) and her sad attempt at finding true love with a young man rich in good looks but poor in dollars, the gorgeous music Puccini composed has gotten the opera a fair amount of attention. As an alternative to another round of the master’s ubiquitous La Boheme, there’s a refreshing aspect to La Rondine. Nevertheless, a production that can truly make the opera’s narrative work has not appeared (except possibly to those besotted, understandably so, with the beauty of the score). An opera should build to its final act; La Rondine collapses as that point. The title character’s love interest, Ruggero, is so one-dimensional that he makes Traviata’s Alfredo seem like Hamlet, and the decision Magda makes when she realizes her past will always thwart their happiness (the “swallow” flies away) comes off as unmotivated or irrational.

Interestingly, for the 1998 Washington National Opera performance that Decca offers on DVD, director Marta Domingo opted for a later revision where Puccini thought a tragic ending would make the third act viable. Here, Magda not only realizes her past will obliterate any chance for happiness, not just this one with Ruggero, and so at opera’s end she walks into the sea (here a cloud of fog) to end it all. In Michael Scott’s lovely seaside cottage setting, the scene plays effectively in itself, but still feels like no resolution to the story and characters of the much lighter first two acts. The odd mix of the libretto is reflected in the names of the librettists: Dr. A. M. Willner, Heinz Reichert, and Giuseppe Adami. Three librettists walk into an EU bar, the joke might begin.

Domingo’s direction of the first two acts gets too busy at times — all the supers in the second act cafe scene make too much noise during lighter scored music — but she has an attractive cast. Inva Mula’s career now takes her to main stages (more in Europe, perhaps) and major roles; here she sings Lisette, a light role in a light opera, and Mula charms. As her poet boyfriend, Richard Troxell gets to camp it up a bit, and thankfully he knows not to let that get annoying. Ruggero is a good role for Marcus Haddock. He is not a tenor who brings much dramatic face to any performance anyway, so the role of a callow, smitten rube doesn’t tax him. The voice remains able but unmemorable.

Ainhoa Arteta’s Magda makes this a Rondine that flies above the competition. Her tone remains feminine in the more challenging moments — especially the tricky high notes of Doretta’s song, which need float — and in the conversational sections, her complete assumption of the character shines through. When Arteta takes center stage, Puccini’s inspiration matches his craftsmanship. Elsewhere, more than in any of his other operas, a sense of the great composer operating on auto-pilot can’t be evaded. Conductor Emmanuel Villaume treats both the lesser and greater parts of the score with great taste and care.

The booklet essay in the Naxos DVD of the 2007 Puccini festival staging blandly states that this is “yet another version” of the opera. Here, Ruggero rejects Magda at the end, leaving her devastated. Surely Puccini considered this option in an attempt to make Ruggero minimally interesting, and just as surely he rejected it because it goes against the concept of Magda as “swallow,” light and mobile. Director Lorenzo Amato’s solution to that problem is to bring a giant bird cage on at the end. Get it? But just in case the viewer needs more help, on a rear screen a sketch of a bird skull is projected (sets and costumes are by Nall).

Domingo’s staging for Washington maybe be too pretty for some, but anyone looking for ugliness in a Rondine production should be fully satisfied by Amato and Nall’s efforts. Unfortunately, the singing offers little beauty in compensation. Soprano Svetla Vassileva has too heavy and dark a voice for Magda. Fabio Sartori also has more voice than he needs as Ruggero; if it were a more attractive instrument, viewers might be able to overlook the fact that Sartori — a hefty, plain man — isn’t very convincing as a country lad who turns the head of a high class Parisian courtesan. Maya Dashuk as Lisette makes the best impression of the rest of the cast. In fact, the designer of the packaging apparently thought the blond and attractive Dashuk was the star, as her portrait appears on the front cover, not Vassileva’s. Alberto Veronesi leads the Puccini festival forces in an efficient performance, though perhaps recorded a bit loud and thus harsh hearing at times.

Perhaps the Metropolitan Opera’s HD moviecast with Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna will come to DVD — that would be strong competition for the Washington Opera set. The Naxos is recommended only for the morbidly inclined.

Chris Mullins

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):