Puccini: La Rondine

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: La Rondine
CATALOGUE NO: 631 6189

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La rondine (The Swallow) was for many years dismissed as imitation Lehár – until Antonio Pappano’s EMI recording, also starring Alagna and Gheorghiu, revealed it as something deeper and more characteristically melodic.

The plot’s a less tragic Traviata, while Puccini himself had Rosenkavalier in mind. It’s even been called La bohème 2, with demi-mondaine Magda and poet Prunier presenting in effect an older Musetta and Rodolpho fading into comfortable disillusion.

Rondine’s essential intimacy was rather lost in the Met’s vastness, but it is strikingly restored by the camera. Nicolas Joël’s production, seen at Toulouse and Covent Garden, looks attractive, but the 1920s update suggests a glossier, more cynical era – Bullier’s boîte de nuit restaurant becomes a chilly café.

Marco Armiliato’s conducting feels less nuanced than Pappano’s, but captures the right warmth, and the former Dream Team still look superb, only slightly less at ease vocally. Gheorghiu is a sexy Magda, caught between sugar-daddy and student – soignée, mercurial, yet obviously hungry for more genuine love. If her tone is less creamy than Te Kanawa, pushing her upper register in ‘Che bel sogno di Doretta’, she also sounds convincingly more vivid and nervy.

The lyrical young Ruggero still suits Alagna, though he too strains occasionally, as in his opening paean to Paris. Marius Brenciu’s jaded Prunier is reedier but more poised, while Lisette Oropessa as Magda’s Adele-like maid plays the soubrette hilariously.

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Sam Ramey’s now leathery tone embodies Rambaldo’s elderly urbanity, and the Met’s lesser roles are typically strong. Overall, then, this is fine performance that undoubtedly confirms Rondine’s renewed status. Michael Scott Rohan