11/17/2023 - & November 18, 19, 21, 22, 23*, 26, 2023
Giacomo Puccini : La rondine
Olga Peretyatko/Carolina López Moreno* (Magda), Valentina Farkas/Marilena Ruta* (Lisette), Mario Rojas/Oreste Cosimo* (Ruggero), Santiago Ballerin/Marco Ciaponi* (Prunier), Vladimir Stoyanov (Rambaldo), Matteo Mollica (Périchaud, Rabonnier), Pawel Zak (Gobin, Adolfo), Rocco Lia (Crébillon, Un maggiordomo), Amélie Hois (Yvette, Georgette), Irina Bogdanova (Bianca, Lolette), Ksenia Chubunova (Suzy, Gabriella)
Coro del Teatro Regio Torino, Francesco Lanzillotta (conductor), Orchestra del Teatro Regio Torino, Ulisse Trabacchin (chorus master)
Pierre-Emmanuel Rousseau (stage director, sers & costumes), Gilles Gentner (lighting), Carmine de Amicis (choreography)
(© Andrea Macchia/Teatro Regio Torino)
Puccini’s La rondine is the least successful of his mature operas, starting with Manon Lescaut and ending with Turandot. Even his two earliest operas, Le Villi and Edgar seem to be performed almost as frequently. Despite several waves of revivals, the last of which was some fifteen to twenty years ago, revolving around Angela Gheorghiu, La rondine (the swallow) has never gained its place in the operatic repertoire.
Originally commissioned by Vienna’s Carlstheater as an operetta or possibly a comic opera without spoken dialogues, it took Puccini two years to finish. When he did, World War I had broken out, Italy and Austria-Hungary were on opposite sides, and the work premiered in neutral Monte‑Carlo in 1917. Puccini’s publisher, Ricordi, refused to buy the rights, judging it too mediocre (he described it as bad Lehár). Though there are some good tunes, La rondine is melodically modest compared to his other operas. The opera’s most memorable aria is reprised throughout the work ad nauseam as Magda’s leitmotif.
Nonetheless, the character of the opera’s heroine is well-developed, and when interpreted by a charismatic soprano, it can be riveting. This was the case with the present production. Bolivian-Albanian lyric soprano Carolina López Moreno was well cast in the role, and her rich timbre is distinct and appealing. She has beautiful pianissimi and is magnetic on stage. Her interpretation of Doretta’s dream “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” showed the sheer beauty of her voice and her ability to communicate ennui, restlessness and naive desire. With her radiant face and lovely figure, she made a charismatic Magda. One cheered for her when she yielded to the temptation of an anonymous night out at Bullier’s. A woman kept in luxury by an older man, Rambaldo, Magda was reminded by young Ruggero of a brief adventure in her younger, more innocent days. When her friends suggest Bullier’s as a venue for the provincial Ruggero’s first night out in Paris, Magda can’t resist. López Moreno enchanted in the first act as a stylish worldly woman, was amusing as the incognito coquette in the second act and moved the audience to tears in the third.
Tenor Oreste Cosimo was a credible Ruggero, appropriately rigid and gauche in the first and second acts and earnest in his imprecations in the third. His demeanor contrasted with the libertine poet Prunier (played by tenor Marco Ciaponi), an advocate for free love and hedonism. Ciaponi is endowed with an appropriately light tenor that contrasts with Cosimo’s more dramatic instrument. Ciaponi is also an excellent actor who manages to convey the character’s ennui with gusto.
In the third act, Ruggero learns from Magda of her past life as a courtesan. Her refusal to meet his parents or become the mother of his children, and her ultimate decision to leave him devastate Ruggero. The breakup scene was highly-charged, and Cosimo managed to exude passion and pathos. His line “Taci! Le tue parole sono la mia perdizione” was heartbreaking. His phrasing of “O mia divina amante, o vita della mia vita, non spezzare il mio cuore” was hauntingly unforgettable.
Vladimir Stoyanov was well-cast as Magda’s wealthy and aged protector, Rambaldo, exuding confidence and cynicism. His role is not a demanding one vocally, but requires an actor who can convey a roué endowed with charisma, and veteran baritone Stoyanov certainly managed that.
Marilena Ruta, as Lisette, Magda’s temperamental chambermaid, was a charming soubrette. Again, the role isn’t vocally challenging, but requires a spirited light soprano with character. Lisette is also the funniest presence in the opera, supposedly Puccini’s only comedy. She is bemused by the blasé nature of her employer and her friends in the first act, and self-deprecating in the third. Magda recognizing her and knowing she was wearing her hat was an imaginative clin d’œil to Rosalinde recognizing her maid Adele wearing her dress in Strauss’s Die Fledermaus.
Perhaps the abundance of references to other operas is what makes La rondine feel diluted and eventually dull. Magda is a poor man’s Violetta from La traviata. The soubrette Lisette is La bohème’s Musette, but down one notch to a chambermaid.
On a more positive note, Pierre-Emmanuel Rousseau’s staging delighted the Turin audience, as it paid homage to their venerable opera house, Teatro Regio. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of its reopening as a modern elegant theatre while retaining its splendidly historic exterior. Bullier’s night club (in Act II) is a recreation of Teatro Regio’s glitzy foyer. Given Puccini’s intimate connection with Turin and Teatro Regio where his first huge successes Manon Lescaut (1893) and La bohème (1896) premiered, such a homage made perfect sense.
Rousseau updated the period of the opera to 1973, the year the renovated Teatro Regio reopened. Costumes of the seventies are definitely less appealing than those of the original period, but the sets were less representative of their epoch. Magda’s posh apartment and the somewhat vulgar assembly of imposing antiques could be taken from any period from the early twentieth century onwards. The sets for Act III, being Magda and Ruggero’s Côte d’Azur love nest, were highly evocative. Thanks to intelligent lighting, the blazing sun and the deep blue sea could have been an allegory for the blinding truth of Magda’s past.
Conductor Francesco Lanzillotta did his best to bring out the few strengths in the score, however he could not perform miracles. He was a singers’ conductor in never drowning the voices with loud orchestral élan, an easy pitfall in Puccini’s highly symphonic orchestrations. He also deftly slowed the tempi at moments to suit the needs of López Moreno.
Puccini was never satisfied with La rondine, modifying it many times, especially its ending. Teatro Regio opted for the original version, but alas, it is dramatically weaker. I heard the version with the extended third act that the Los Angeles Opera did some fifteen years ago and I think it has the strongest ending of all: upon realizing she has to end her idyll with Ruggero, Magda commits suicide by walking into the sea.
However, the original ending is more true to the Viennese essence of the opera. It’s reminiscent of works by Viennese authors in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, notably Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen (La Ronde) (written 1897, first performed 1920); it depicts the cynical merry‑go‑round of sexual and amorous affairs across all social classes and the bittersweet taste it leaves. This ambivalence may be why this bird (La rondine) has never flown.
Ossama el Naggar