Sunday, February 15, 2009

Met - La Rondine - 02/14/09

By Giacomo Puccini
Conductor: Marco Amiliato
Director: Stephen Barlow
Magda: Angela Georghiu
Ruggero: Giuseppe Filianoti
Prunier: Marius Brenchiu
Lisette: Lisette Oropesa

Although Puccini wrote some of the most popular operas in the répertoire, La Rondine is surprisingly enough not one of them. Originally commissioned as an operetta by Viennese producers, the composer had enough healthy contempt for the genre to make sure he would twist it to the extent that it would meet his personal artistic standards. Bless his heart! My main motivation for attending the Met production last night was to hear celebrated Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu, who has been instrumental, along with her husband , tenor Roberto Alagna, in bringing this lesser known work to opera audiences worldwide. Boasting of Puccini's trademark compelling melodies, doomed love story, a generous amount of lightheartedness, eye-popping art déco sets and costumes, not to mention a big name star, this production has all the right ingredients to be a big hit with critics and public alike.
From the very first scene, Magda, the swallow of the title, proves to be drastically different from the world she evolves in. Believing in the power of love amidst the cynicism surrounding her, she of course will have to pay dearly for deciding to put her heart above her mind. Luckily, solid doses of humor are sporadically injected here and there, even if they don't always blend in flawlessly. The whole package ends up being a unique, sophisticated cocktail of tradition and modernism as much in its musical structure as in its dramatic development.
Angela Georghiu was a sweet and strong Magda, her voice increasingly gaining clarity, luminosity and suppleness as she was reaching for higher notes. She grabbed our undivided attention at "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" and we never looked back. Her Ruggero, the reliable Italian tenor Giuseppe Filiantoni, was refreshingly touching in his innocence and spontaneity, and the straight-from-Feydeau couple of the unflappable poet Prunier and the mischievious, smart-ass maid Lisette added some welcome comic relief and melodic lightness to the unfolding drama. The young Italian conductor Marco Armiliato channeled his best Puccini and let the master's gorgeously expressive music soar in all its glory.
This production places the story in Paris and the French Riviera in the 1920s, therefore allowing the set and costume designers to have a no holds bar field day with their particular craft. The décor ranged from a lavishly elegant Parisian salon to a Mediterranean love-nest featuring some stunning stained-glass window panels, beautifully situating the action without overdoing it. The outfits were a tasteful, extensive tribute to the fashion of the day and greatly contributed to the endless enchantement for the eyes.
All that being said, for the second time yesterday, love did not conquer all, which seemed kind of counter-indicated for Valentine's Day programming. Although, quite remarkably, nobody died, nobody got to live happily ever after either. On the bright side, however, these unhappy couples, each unhappy in their own way, ended up making fiercely beautiful music together while mercilessly tearing each other apart.

Let's hope that this swell Rondine will fly towards even more success in the future. It is an immensely enjoyable production at every level and should easily find its rightful place in Puccini's much beloved oeuvre.

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