Puccini: La rondine; Le villi (excerpts)

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COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: La rondine; Le villi (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Roberto Alagna, Angela Gheorghiu, William Matteuzzi, Inva Mula, Alberto Rinaldo, Patrizia Biccire, Patrizia Ciofi, Monica Bacelli, Toby Spence London Voices, LSO/Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 56338 2

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Bohème, Tosca and Butterfly had all been written and Puccini was riding high as Europe’s most popular composer after the initial success of La fanciulla del West. For the next few years he searched for a suitable subject for his next opera. Finally, a German libretto of La rondine (The Swallow) was sent to him and he asked Adami to make an Italian adaptation. Because of the First World War, La rondine was premiered in neutral Monte Carlo in 1917. Its plot has been described as a cross between La traviata and Die Fledermaus. Rondine has a lush yet elegant score with some unresolved dissonances and bitonality among the dance rhythms and it contains many of Puccini’s most extended melodies which frequently recur in fragmented form as drama-intensifying motifs. Antonio Pappano has emerged as a truly gifted conductor of intense musical integrity and passion. He has a vivid sense of the potency of this score and secures splendid performances from the orchestra and chorus, as well as the soloists. The smaller parts – often doubled – are colourfully portrayed with excellent ensemble work. Secondary lovers with the same voice ranges as the principal lovers often prove difficult to cast, but Mula and Matteuzzi are well chosen and deliver all the required character and vocal individuality. Gheorghiu has a meltingly tender tone and intuitive dramatic flair as Magda. From her vivid first-act phrases in Doretta’s song, through her spirited exchanges in Act II, to her poignant farewell closing the opera, she is in superb form. Alagna is now well able to utilise his vibrant tenor sound in reflective and pianissimo singing. He shapes ‘Parigi! è la città’ and the substitute aria ‘Morire?’ exquisitely and the Act II duet ‘Perché mai cercate’ with Gheorghiu is glorious. Elise McDougall

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Reviewed June 1997