Music review: La rondine, Royal Opera House, London
Sunday 07 July 2013
Why did Angela Gheorghiu look so uneasy taking her curtain calls at the revived Rondine's first night? It couldn't just have been her unflattering wardrobe for Act 3. One had the sense that there was, for her, some underlying problem with her part, or with the production, or even with the opera itself. Puccini was never satisfied with this un-categorisable hybrid, and he was still tinkering with it at the end of his life.
The plot of La rondine has superficial echoes of other Puccini operas. Spying each other across a crowded room, rich courtesan Magda and handsome young Ruggero are struck by a coup de foudre and elope; he wants marital bliss with babies, but she unexpectedly turns against the idea, pleading that she is not 'pure' and that her 'shame' means she must return to her gilded cage in Paris, which she accordingly does. The grisettes with their sugar-daddy protectors in La boheme come to mind, as does Violetta's renunciation in La traviata. But La rondine is no tragedy: as director Nicolas Joel observes in his programme note, all Magda wants is a brief diversion. And since the libretto fails to invest Ruggero's character with any reality, we have no interest in what happens to him. This is a sardonic social comedy.
Thirteen years on, Ezio Frigerio's Art Nouveau sets look tired - too many restaurateurs have been down that road - and the production has coarsened. We don't believe the caricatured figures in Rambaldo Fernandez's salon, any more than we do the creatures thronging Bullier's night-spot - vulgar contemporary ladettes, rather than the louche revellers Puccini presumably intended. This strenuously busy production suggests desperation rather than spontaneously wild abandon.
With a banal libretto and a plot which doesn't stack up, everything depends on the performances. Conductor Marco Armiliato extracts much of the quality Puccini saw in his own score - 'agreeable, limpid… as clear as spring water' - and Edgaras Montvidas's incarnation of the poet Prunier is vivid and resonant, as is Sabina Puertolas's performance as his flighty paramour Lisette. But Pietro Spagnoli's Rambaldo is a two-dimensional creation, and, with Gheorghiu's Magda and Charles Castronovo's Ruggero, there was a hole where this show's heart should have been. Castronovo's singing was colourless and he moved like a waxwork, while Gheorghiu's voice had none of its celebrated bloom and beauty; until she rallied in the final scene, it was seriously underpowered. These lovers didn't convince for a moment.
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 2 James Blunt was special guest on the highest-rating Top Gear episode ever
- 3 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 4 Van driver who comforted Clark Carlisle and called 999 after suicide attempt dies age 24
- 5 Baby rescued 1km out to sea after parents forgot about her
Bad luck, One Direction: Paul McCartney doubts success of The Beatles will ever be matched again
This is surely the best way to watch Jaws
The Crystal Maze: Richard O’Brien confirmed to return as more details revealed about show's rebooted format
James Blunt was special guest on the highest-rating Top Gear episode ever
Guillaume Tell's gang-rape scene caused uproar at the Royal Opera House – but the portrayal of extreme sex and violence on stage is nothing new
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture