Sunday, June 29, 2008

OPERA: La Rondine

Some have called La Rondine a "poor man's La Traviata", but we found Los Angeles Opera's production of the underappreciated Puccini work to be one of exquisite beauty. I hadn't had a chance to read much about the opera before the performance, but still found the accessible story was romantic, delightful, wickedly funny at times, and ultimately poignant. And as with all good operas, beautiful music and strong performances lifted the story up to a higher dimension of emotion. Patricia Racette gave the lead role Magda a strong, clear, bright soprano that soared on spread wings at times and softened to delicate fragility at others. Marcus Haddock's golden-toned tenor delivered all the impetuousness and passion of youthful love, as Ruggero. The two of them were good actors as well as singers, and seeing them together only enhanced the thrill of hearing them. The rest of the cast were strong as well, with Amanda Squitieri giving a fiery, free-willed mezzo maid, Greg Fedderly as the romantic but worldly poet Prunier, and bass David Pittsinger as a stiff, old, but ultimately moved Rambaldo, all giving notable performances. The sets of this production were inspired as well, from the grandly decorated living room and dining room of Magda's house for Act I, to the night club that was the place for dancing and romancing in Belle Epoque Paris in Act II, to the romantic Italian villa overlooking the ocean in Act III. (The lovely vine-covered villa porch and the realistic rocky beach and ocean inspired spontaneous applause when the curtain rose for Act III.) Of course all of this beauty rests on the foundation of Puccini's gorgeous score, as lush and passionate as any of his works. Conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson made the music shimmer and soar. Reading about the production later, I learned of how Marta Domingo not only skilfully directed this production, but contributed to the musicology of the work, staging an alternate ending (apparently Puccini had continued to revise the opera after its debut), and adding some "lost" parts (duets between Magda and Rambaldo, and a gorgeous aria for Ruggero in Act I) that give more meaning to the story. So far as I could tell from descriptions of how other productions had been, Domingo's choices were all authentic and welcome. Like its namesake "the swallow", I would return to see this beautiful opera again.

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