CLASSICAL

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The Independent Culture
Puccini: La Rondine. Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, LSO/Antonio Pappano (EMI, CDx2). After the searing emotionality of Boheme, Tosca and Butterfly, Puccini seemed to be in simmer mode for this urbane Italian take on Viennese operetta, and it wasn't what his public wanted. After 80 years, La Rondine remains the also-ran of his mature stage scores: dismissed as slight and rarely heard despite some credible recordings of old, with Anna Moffo, and, more recently, with Kiri and Domingo.

Whether this effort from EMI will change things is anyone's guess: but it certainly opened my ears to the mastery behind the froth of the piece, with purposeful conducting and an orchestral sound (rich and superbly engineered) that gives a sense of substance to the music. And as an opera that threads its way through a relentless succession of soprano- tenor love duets, it's a perfect vehicle for the operatic couple de nos jours, Alagna and Gheorghiu, who make the most of every encounter. She dominates, but he supplies the bonus of a fresher and more youthful ardour than Domingo offers on the rival from Sony. If you were brought up to think of Rondine as no more than background music for domestic chores, you might just find this persuades you to leave the pans in soak and listen. Michael White

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