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Opolais and Filianoti in the Met's Rondine revival
© Johan Elbers 2013
La Rondine returned to the Metropolitan Opera on January 11, with Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais making her much-anticipated company debut as Magda after a string of high-profile successes in Europe and at Covent Garden. Nicolas Joël's Rondine production, which bowed at the Met in 2008, updates the opera's Second Empire setting to the 1920s, with a sharp and snappy art deco look, but Ezio Frigerio's boxy, rectangular sets, in spite of attractive golden Klimt-like murals, are ill-suited to the gigantic Met stage. Act I's double colonnades and Act III's flat floral panels lend a cold, corporate look to what should be an elegant salon and a sun-baked Riviera villa, while the bustling Bullier dance hall of Act II seems to be nothing but Act I's rectangular box viewed on a diagonal.
Stage director Stephen Barlow injected little warmth into this airport-lounge atmosphere; the singers seemed to be fending for themselves, and the score's numerous ensembles never meshed dramatically. Act I suffered the most, with the party girls Yvette, Bianca and Suzy (Monica Yunus, Janinah Burnett and Margaret Thompson) posing awkwardly while the orchestra, sounding lush and luminous under Ion Marin's baton, often obscured their chatty vocal lines.
Even without a strong directorial hand, Dwayne Croft, as an amiable, sturdy-sounding Rambaldo, navigated the crowded sets with sureness, but Anna Christy's Lisette seemed a standard-issue pouty maid, and her bright, lithe soprano was often covered by the orchestra. Marius Brenciu reprised his Met debut role of Prunier with natural, conversational appeal and a taut, spicy voice.
As Ruggero, Giuseppe Filianoti sported a Puccini look-alike mustache, and his warm, open-throated singing was a delight, in spite of several wayward top notes. Both he and Opolais needed a firmer hand, and perhaps more furniture to sprawl upon, in Act III. ("Non lasciarmi solo" found them mostly on the floor.)
Opolais's cool, elegant sound took a while to warm up — no doubt there were nerves involved in making a Met debut in a new role — but she is a truthful and commanding singing actress. Gentle, delicate moments, such as the end of Act II, or the reading of the letter from Ruggero's mother, were gorgeously sung. Let's hope the Met rewards her with plum assignments in future seasons.
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