28 March 2017
Angela Gheorghiu takes flight in La rondine
by Michael Sinclair
|Puccini: La rondine
The Royal Opera
21 July 2013
Chronologically Puccini wrote La rondine between La fanciulla del West and Il trittico, by which time he was famous for the works that have since left an indelible mark on the opera repertoire. La rondine was conceived as an operetta, although Puccini scoffed at the idea and wisely decided not to have any spoken dialogue preferring to through compose the work in the style of Der Rosenkavalier. What we end up with is something of a hybrid: much of the opera is conversational in style and where conversation gives way to emotion there is tenderness in these moments, rather than an outpouring of feelings that we might have expected from Puccini. Bittersweet and nostalgic, La rondine makes its impact in more subtle ways and on approaching the work it would perhaps be best to try and avoid comparisons with La bohème and Madama Butterfly. Rather it is a work with a unique style that deserves attention in its own right.
The role of Magda has always been closely associated with Angela Gheorghiu and she is back at the Royal Opera for this revival of Nicolas Joël's handsome 2002 production. If the soprano's offstage dramas seem to have overshadowed her performance on opening night, by the end of the run she was much more relaxed and better able to concentrate on Magda's dilemmas rather than her own.
Gheorghiu seems to understand this role to perfection: the introspective nature of the character is beautifully handled and when emotions do take over she delivers these in a heartfelt and moving way with her trademark creamy tones. She is coquettish in Act I, soars beautifully in the Act II ensemble and her parting from Ruggero in Act III has all the intensity you could ask for.
But this is not a one woman show - the ensemble nature of the piece simply doesn't allow that. Ruggero isn't exactly the most dashing of leading men, but his love for Magda is genuine. Charles Castronovo certainly brings out the lame side of the character, but also brings ardency both to his interpretation and singing when required, particularly in Act III. His tenor voice projects well and there is just enough Puccinian intensity to maintain interest.
To counterpoint the introspective nature of the central characters the poet Prunier and the maid Lisette bring wit and exuberance to the opera and are delightfully portrayed by Edgaras Montvidas and Sabina Puértolas respectively. Puértolas shows a real sense of comic timing as the bumbling maid (Polly in Fawlty Towers comes to mind), while Montvidas manages to mix charm, wit and sophistication into his well sung portrayal.
All the minor roles are well taken, including Dusica Bijelic as Yvette, Hanna Hipp as Bianca, Justina Gringyte as Suzy (all participants in the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme) and Pietro Spagnoli as Rambaldo.
Nicolas Joël's production, revived here by Stephen Barlow, remains as fresh as it did eleven years ago with Ezio Frigerio's sets and Franca Squarciapino's costumes a feast for the eyes, bringing the belle-époque era in Paris to the stage in a glamorous way.
Seasoned conductor Marco Armiliato led the orchestra of the Royal Opera House through Puccini's bittersweet score, while the Royal Opera Chorus made their mark in Act II as patrons at Bullier's.
La rondine is no Tosca, Bohème or Butterfly, but played with sensitivity and feeling as it was here then the swallow certainly soars.
Photo © Catherine Ashmore