Thursday, January 08, 2009


Metropolitan Opera presents Puccini's LA RONDINE
live in HD in movie theaters worldwide, Saturday, January 10th.

(The Swallow)
Music by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Giuseppe Adami
after Alfred Maria Willner and Heinz Reichert

Premiere: Monte Carlo, March 27, 1917

By 1910 Giacomo Puccini was on top of the musical world.
La boheme, Tosca and Madama Butterfly were international sensations.
The earlier Manon Lescaut has plenty of admirers. La fanciulla del West had just opened a the Metropolitan in New York, with Enrico Caruso and Emma Destinn. The audience was lukewarm but the newspapers were writing that Puccini had outdone himself.

What next? After love and death in Napoleon's Rome, or Nagasaki, or the California mountains, what could be left? Puccini had several projects in mind, including Marie Antoinette. Paris did win out as the setting of the composer's next opera, but not the tragic French-Austrian Queen. Instead, Puccini was going to write an operetta for Vienna. A German language libretto was was re shaped and translated into Italian, and La Rondine was born. World War I scuttled the Viennese premiere. La Rondine's first performance was in Monte Carlo, starring Gilda dalla Rizza and Tito Schipa. The audience and press were polite.

Soprano Angela Gheorghiu has called La Rondine, "Traviata without the heartbreak."
In the Parisian setting we meet Magda, the rondine-or swallow-of the title. The cynical poet Prunier tells Magda that just like a swallow she will fly away only to return home. Magda is a kept woman who meets a nice young man from the country. When he asks to marry her, she leaves him, realizing such a marriage would ruin his life.
No bloodshed, but a lot of pathos. At La Rondine's New York premiere in 1928, with Lucrezia Bori and Beniamino Gigli, critic W.J. Henderson wrote, "It is the afternoon off of a genius."

If the story is on the slim side, the opera does have Puccini's exquisite gift for melody. The first act 'Sogno di Doreta' is unforgettable. Magda follows this up with the wonderful 'Ore dolce e divine'. The second act waltz and ensemble are usually applauded o the rafters. Henderson conceded that "The Waltz in Act II will go the rounds. The phonograph will seize it. The radio will air it. The night clubs will do strange things with it." All that came to pass. But La Rondine lacked the blood and guts of Puccini's earlier operas, and the music was considered sentimental. The Metropolitan gave La Rondine only 17 times between 1928 and 1936. The first widely available recording, with the magnificent Anna Moffo, wasn't published until 1967.

Three recodings followed (buy the Moffo on RCA). La Rondine has been heard in Chicago, London, New York (conducted by Alessandro Siciliani at the New York City Opera) Vienna and Paris. Her recording of Doretta's aria made Leontyne Price a star. Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna have starred in Nicolas Joel's staging in London and San Francisco. These artists and this prodution return Puccini's score to the Metropolitan for the first time in over seventy years. Listen to the music. This afternoon off of a genius is a melodic score that would have defeated anyone else.

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