OPERA NEWS - La Rondine
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La Rondine

Opéra National de Lorraine

Puccini's La Rondine, first heard in Monte Carlo in 1917, flew northeast to the Opéra National de Lorraine in Nancy for a new production conducted, designed and produced by tenor José Cura. This was a Youth Production sponsored by Nancy Opéra Passion, featuring a double cast of young singers. Cura is a well-known pedagogic figure here, where he has conducted master classes, and although it was an undoubted risk to allow the tenor a free hand in all aspects of the production, the exercise produced a highly enjoyable performance of Puccini's underrated score.

Cura was eager to reveal the seriousness of purpose behind Puccini's work, not as a Viennese-style operetta — as it was initially commissioned — but as a work dissecting the female psyche that could stand beside the works of Richard, rather than Johann, Strauss. The composer's well-known penchant for exploring cruelty and female suffering is well served. Magda longs for fulfilled romantic love with Ruggero, but she painfully abandons the possibility out of shame for her past life as a courtesan, as well as the lingering doubt that she may still hanker after the security of her pampered life with sugar-daddy Rambaldo. This complex psychological tussle was directed with some skill by Cura, who chose to set the action in designs and costumes of a post-World War II period. Act I looked like the atrium of a four-star hotel, Chez Bullier featured bistro tables and a Chagall-style backdrop of the Eiffel Tower, and the final act was a Côte d'Azur seaside setting, complete with sand castles and deckchairs. Puccini's much-revised ending was cleverly staged by the tenor. As Magda rejected her lover to return to her former life as a kept woman, the marquee on the beach collapsed to reveal Rambaldo, Lisette and Prunier waiting to welcome her back to the stultifying atmosphere of her loveless relationship; Magda fainted, and her inner life died.

The gorgeous Gabrielle Philiponet had many qualities for a great Magda — a beautiful soprano capable of creamily floating Doretta's dream and the musical intelligence to sculpt an intense line for the reading of the letter from Ruggero's mother, as well as the power to ride the magnificent ensemble Chez Bullier. Mickael Spadaccini has a dark, smoky tenor timbre that he used effectively for Ruggero's distress in the final act, but he needed to find a greater physical liberty and a readier smile for the earlier scenes. Moroccan tenor Abdellah Lasri, cast as the poet Prunier, offered an attractively plaintive timbre and an easy dramatic confidence for his pairing with the light-voiced Lisette of soprano Norma Nahoun, who relished the comic possibilities of the role and was touching in her dedication to domestic service under the firm Rambaldo of baritone Marc Scoffoni.

Cura's conducting of orchestra and chorus was discreet and workmanlike on May 6, registering as well paced and singer-friendly after a first act in which stage-to-pit balance favored the enthusiastic orchestra over the young cast. spacer


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