In Review > International

La Rondine

Opera Holland Park

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Stephen Aviss and Elizabeth Llewellyn, Prunier and Magda, in Opera Holland Park’s production of La Rondine, directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans
© Robert Workman
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Llewellyn and Matteo Lippi as Ruggero
© Robert Workman

FOR LONG A NEGLECTED WORK within the composer’s mature output, Puccini’s late commedia lirica, La Rondine (1917) has attracted more attention over recent decades, particularly—as far as UK audiences are concerned—at Opera Holland Park, London’s Kensington-park-based festival venue.

La Rondine is an undeniably attractive piece, in which the Italian master once again extends his harmonic language into ever more subtle areas, though for some its still visible operetta beginnings (the Italian text he set was based on a Viennese original, though there is no spoken dialogue) limits its ambitions. 

That Puccini himself remained dissatisfied with it is evident from the two substantial rewrites he made, neither of which have gained much currency. As on the two previous occasions when it has performed the piece, Holland Park opted for the first version of the score with the addition of the romanza for Ruggero in Act I ("Parigi è la città dei desideri") that shares material with the song “Morire?” and which is incorporated in Puccini’s first revision. It does not solve a certain lack of conviction regarding the opera’s ending, where one suspects that Magda’s decision to return to her former life has more to do with money than with moral guilt.

In his second version (Vienna, 1920), Puccini himself transferred the action from Second Empire Paris and the Riviera to the same locales in his own day (some of the dance-music already fitted the latter era better than the former); so perhaps he would not have minded that on this occasion director Martin Lloyd-Evans and designer Takis moved the piece further forward and into the 1950s, a choice that did not necessarily make Magda’s final volte-face more credible. It did, however, allow for some snazzy visuals both at Magda’s home and on her excursion to Chez Bullier (though the ballroom actually closed its doors in 1940) while movement director Steve Elias came up with some natty choreography for the score’s one-steps.

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Tereza Gevorgyan as Lisette with Aviss
© Robert Workman

Holland Park offered a fine central cast. Elizabeth Llewellyn is a British soprano now based in Germany whose rich, lyric instrument produced refined tone at every point in her wide range and whose sense of Puccinian style was consistently impressive; she brought to the role of Magda glamour, sophistication and a voice it would be hard to match anywhere in terms of beauty and color.

Tempting Magda away from her financial security (even if only on a temporary basis) was the Ruggero of Italian tenor Matteo Lippi, who offered a classical instrument of his vocal kind—warm, vibrant and powerful, with genuinely exciting top notes; a little stiff on stage, he nevertheless revealed considerable dramatic potential.

Tereza Gevorgyan brought character and a slender though well deployed soprano to Magda’s flighty maid, Lisette, Stephen Aviss a light lyric tenor and a lightly ironic manner as her partner, the salon poet Prunier. David Stephenson’s Rambaldo could have done with more vocal and dramatic weight, but conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren demonstrated a superior empathy with Puccini’s late style and an easy command of the City of London Sinfonia in the pit.  —George Hall 

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