Theatre: La Rondine flies again

La Rondine

Royal Albert Hall

Just in case it should have escaped anyone's notice, " - the concert" was also an award-winning album. The Royal Opera's crest may have adorned the programme book, but the event bore all the trappings of an EMI promotion - glossy flyers, the works. Not that anyone at the Royal Opera was complaining. Right now everyone benefits from a piece of opera's golden couple. If Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu hadn't found each other, someone would have done it for them. Not even Puccini could portray them as more in love than they really are. On stage, the playful, even mischievous glances, the whispered exchanges, the expressions of encouragement, so pointed as to look as though they might just be (surely not?) playing to the gallery. Who could believe in unhappy endings anymore? In this opera, they fall in love but must part. Just imagine what that would do to the album sales.

Ironically, it is Gheorghiu's character Magda whose idealistic dream of true love provides a happy ending for the poet Prunier's latest lyric (that's "Doretta's Song" to you and me) and the starting point for the opera. Talk about art imitating life imitating real life. This is the hit number, of course, and all we need now is the hit single (Andrew Lloyd Webber has already had a pretty good shot at cloning it in his new song for Dame Kiri). Gheorghiu sings it like it's up there where she belongs. Indeed, much of the role's character is in its high tessitura. True love is something that Magda, the kept-woman, has always thought unattainable until now. It exists, in her dreams, somewhere beyond the clouds, over the rainbow - all those cliches - and now she's found it... It's a role that, vocally speaking, is all about attaining, and sustaining, the ascendancy. It's all about rapture, and ecstasy. And Gheorghiu, if not quite at her best (which is considerable), was almost there. The big moments, the big notes, certainly were (the moment in which she finally parts company with her rich patron, Rambaldo, was rightly the turning point of the evening); the fine-spun sostenutos less so than usual. But that sound - it's as if all the richness and duskiness of her lower register has been pushed up into the rest of the voice. I've yet to hear an ugly or unmeaningful note from her.

Her other (though indubitably not better) half was also in good voice. It's a fine instrument, this, and it's filling out and marinating nicely (ample resonance in the bottom notes and no narrowing at the top). If only Alagna's phrasing were as enticing as his timbre. Occasionally it happens - something tugged at him and us in the final duet, and it was straightway liberating, as if he'd finally cast off his self-styled musical inhibitions.

The ebullient (if that's not an understatement) conductor, Gianluigi Gelmetti, did so in spades. He scorned the Albert Hall acoustic which sometimes meant that his raciness went ricocheting every which way but ours. Still, his advocacy of this lovely score was nothing if not ardent, and he was quick to underline (in often extravagant rubatos) the notion that everything in is rooted in the spirit of the dance. Even the love duets glide airily from the dance floors of Parisian nightlife. La Traviata meets The Merry Widow. In spirit, we never really leave Bullier's, the fashionable nightspot of the opera's second act where Puccini's happy couples bask in the first flush of romance (and let's not forget here the delightful Rosemary Joshua and Francesco Piccoli as Lisette and Prunier, the opera's other love interest) and all glasses are charged for a musical toast like so few others: "Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso" ("I drink to your fresh smile"), as sumptuous and schwung as anything in Puccini. Whatever the future may hold for Alagna and Gheorghiu (and their union could well compromise their individual strengths), at least they were instrumental in getting ("The Swallow" - or "bird with broken wings" as one critic once dismissed it) flying again.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

    £18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

    Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific