La Rondine, Holland Park, London
Monday 11 July 2011
Things never go to plan in open-air opera.
Thus it was, with exquisitely bad timing, that a police helicopter chose to pass low over Holland Park as the orchestra struck up, and Prunier the poet's opening line ("In Paris, love is in bloom") had to be read from a surtitle because it couldn't be heard. Thereafter, however, extraneous noises didn't obtrude, and Puccini's La Rondine wove its graceful spell.
This was a late work, created after agonising wrestles over orchestration, and it pointed in a musical direction Puccini did not live to explore further; his "poor little Rondine" was to have a very chequered history. But the surface lightness of its sunny, airy score is deceptive: the soprano who premiered the lead role described it as every bit as challenging as La Traviata. Sometimes dismissed as operetta (it was originally destined for Vienna), La Rondine has none of the appurtenances of tragedy – nobody dies of disease, a dagger or despair – yet it packs a very gritty punch.
Magda, its heroine, is the mistress of a rich Parisian, but falls in love with Ruggero, scion of an aristocratic family; he wants to marry her, but as a morally tainted woman she feels duty-bound to renounce him. And in this elegant production, directed by Tom Hawkes and designed by Peter Rice, sociological truth becomes palpably human. Puccini was all too familiar with socially unacceptable liaisons, and here he lays bare the emotional mechanics of true love and forbidden desire in the demi-monde of 1917 Paris. His regretful worldliness gives rise to music of watercolour delicacy which conductor Peter Selwyn beautifully realises.
If Seá* Ruane's Ruggero – leaning on a stick as a wounded officer on leave – is vocally a trifle stiff, Kate Ladner infuses the role of Magda with a soaring expressiveness. One of the strengths of this production lies in the way their passionate duets are counterpointed by the very different duets between Prunier (tenor Hal Cazalet) and Magda's maid Lisette, who in the live-wire figure of Hye-Youn Lee commands the stage bewitchingly whenever she is in view: this South Korean soprano is definitely a singer to watch.
The show's other strength lies in its evocation of time and place: fin-de-siècle abandon seldom comes across as so seductive.
To 17 July (0300 999 1000)
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
- 2 McKamey Manor: This 'extreme' haunted house is the stuff of nightmares
- 3 Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
- 4 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 5 David Beckham's Haig Club whisky is exactly what’s wrong with the Highlands
This is what a film sex scene actually looks like on set (mostly awkward)
Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
After Sam Smith’s Mobo success, is the help of a pushy parent the surest route to stardom?
Pottermore: JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story featuring 'greying' 33-year-old wizard
JK Rowling to publish new Harry Potter story online for Halloween
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Tony Blair 'says Ed Miliband will lose 2015 general election'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Putin: The US is to blame for almost all the world's major conflicts