Notes and Editorial Reviews
Who ever would have guessed that Puccini's 1917 La rondine, his stepchild, would be available in five different video performances? It will take a lot to convince me that it is worthy of its betters--the combination of sentimentality, verismo, and operetta does not click with me; but for those who think that Traviata and Fledermaus would be happy together if they met on an online dating service, I guess it's a treat.
You can't deny that it has its charms--Magda's justly famous "Sogno di Doretta" and the second-act quartet are gorgeous moments; but the mood is emotionally untrustworthy. Puccini said it should be a "reaction to the repulsive music of today, to world war
music", but that's not the definition of a successful stage work.
However, if it's your cup of tea this Met performance from January, 2009 is the best choice. The one on Arthaus, from Venice, in Graham Vick's over-directed but good-looking production, is led by Carlo Rizzi as if it were by Léhar, has a mediocre Magda in Fiorenza Cedolins, and otherwise is undistinguished; the Washington Opera's version is stunning and features a gorgeous Magda in Aïnhoa Arteta, but Marta Domingo's direction actually has her committing suicide at the end, which is both stupid and un-Puccinian--if he had wanted his heroine dead he would have killed her as he does almost all the others.
Nicholas Joël's production (which has been seen in Toulouse, San Francisco, and Covent Garden) has updated the action to the 1920s without harming the action or sensibility of the work, and Ezio Frigerio's absolutely stunning, art-nouveau sets and Franca Squarciapino's flapper-era costumes are equally handsome and picturesque. The ladies smoke up a storm, cigarette holders and all. If anything is wanted, it would be a bit more simplicity--it's all a bit too grand for such an intimate tale. Stephen Barlow's staging is expert in the first and last acts: the carefree life-style of the Parisian well-off and the wonderful familiarity of the loving but doomed couple comes across as nice and natural. But the second act, at a local dance hall, borders dangerously on the tacky. The first-act interaction among the four women is particularly delightful.
Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna are the leads--she is every inch the diva all the time. Watching her closely you see little spontaneity, but she looks great (despite a bad wig) and sounds ravishing. If her "Sogno" misses the pianissimos of the best, it has everything else, and the voice is lustrous throughout. Alagna is at his most ardent and sweet, if mostly loud, but he leaves the competition in the dust. Boyish and eager, he never fails to charm, and he appears to "live" the text. Again, close-ups give away the fact that they are not teenagers, but we've seen much worse.
The comic-relief couple--the cynical poet Prunier and the maid Lisette--are also the strongest on DVD. Romanian tenor Marius Brenciu and soprano Lisette Oropesa seem to relish their roles and act and sing with great self-assurance. As Magda's older, rich sugar-daddy, Samuel Ramey displays a dreadful wobble but carries himself with great dignity.
Marco Armiliato leads a reading that precisely catches the bittersweet quality of the score without falling into sentimentality; indeed he almost sells it as something other than "the day off of a genius". The love scenes are tender and the ensembles full of life.
As a "bonus" Renée Fleming interviews the four principals, two at a time, for about four minutes each. A particularly nice moment occurs when she comments on how charming it is that a real-life couple is singing together on the stage. Alagna comes across as a very nice, happy man.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
La Rondine by Giacomo Puccini
Lisette Oropesa (Soprano),
Angela Gheorghiu (Soprano),
Samuel Ramey (Bass),
Marius Brenciu (Tenor),
Roberto Alagna (Tenor)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Written: 1917; Italy
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