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La Rondine

Opera Santa Barbara

OPERA SANTA BARBARA'S production of Puccini’s La Rondine (seen Apr. 30) arrived  just a month after the centenary of the opera’s first performance at Théâtre de l’Opéra in Monte-Carlo. Conducted by music director Kostis Protopapas, with stage direction by Tara Faircloth, this was the company’s first production of the La Rondine in its twenty-three year history. 

In the role of Magda, Karin Wolverton commanded the stage with grace and poise. Her singing throughout was rich and expressive, with some wonderfully delicate top tones on display in “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta.” As her love interest Ruggero, tenor Adam Diegel was vocally superb. Their soaring Act II duet (“Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso”) was one of the highlights of the show. With his powerful tenor voice, James Callon made a favorable impression as the poet Prunier, while baritone Peter Lindskoog was a solid Rambaldo. Soprano Elizabeth Kelsay, a member of Opera Santa Barbara’s Mosher Studio Artist Program, brought welcome energy and playfulness to the role of Lisette. The twenty-one-member chorus brought an impressive ensemble sound to the second act. 

La Rondine possesses some of Puccini’s most subtle and sophisticated scoring, and the thirty-five-piece orchestra played with precision and sensitivity. My only quibble here—and it’s a minor one—was the use of a digital keyboard in lieu of a real celesta. Puccini skillfully deploys the instrument at several key moments throughout the opera, and with the right balance the effect of the mellow bell tones combined with other instruments and voices can be almost magical. Here the part was largely inaudible, and when it could be heard, it didn’t seem to quite blend with the rest of the ensemble. 

While Puccini originally set the opera during France’s Second Empire, Opera Santa Barbara’s production brings it forward a few decades into the Belle Époque. The attractive sets by Keith Brumley made prominent use of art nouveau motifs. In the second act, an elegant elevated terrace surrounded the dining room at Chez Bullier, while in the third act a wall of translucent wisteria blossoms provided a striking backdrop to Magda and Ruggero’s temporary domicile on the French Riviera. The period-appropriate costuming was provided by A.T. Jones and Sons and coordinated by Stacie Logue. 

La Rondine was a fitting conclusion to a particularly strong season also included Carmen and The Cunning Little Vixen. While this was the final mainstage production for OSB, the company’s recently formed Santa Barbara Youth Opera will perform Hans Krása’s Brundibár in May.  —Edmond Johnson 

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