Puccini’s La rondine conducted by Roberto Rizzi Brignoli, directed by Rolando Villazón

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: Delos
ALBUM TITLE: Puccini
WORKS: La rondine
PERFORMER: Dinara Alieva, Charles Castronovo, Alvaro Zambrano, Alexandra Hutton; Deutsche Oper Berlin/Roberto Rizzi Brignoli; dir. Rolando Villazón (Berlin, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: DV 7010; Blu-ray: DV 7011

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The tenor-turned-director Rolando Villazón’s introduction to his 2015 Deutsche Oper production of La rondine is revealing. Here he is, imagining what Puccini was thinking as he composed the bittersweet confection that his publisher likened to second-rate Léhar: ‘I’ll just write a few excellent melodies looking back to everything I’ve learned up to now.’ If it were that simple, La rondine might have found a secure position in the canon. As it is, we have an opera in which a milieu of decadence and luxury is lightly sketched, as though La traviata had been rewritten for a more cynical age. Villazón relocates the drama to the 1920s, using imagery from Man Ray and De Chirico to create ‘an artistic flow like that of surrealism’. What this means, in practical terms, is that Magda (Dinara Alieva) is shadowed by three faceless figures, finally creating a fourth from Ruggero (Charles Castronovo).

Act I is played out under a vast reproduction of Titian’s Venus of Urbino, amplifying the suspicion that Villazón’s art history derives from the postcard rack in a gallery gift-shop. Act II propels us into Cabaret territory (the film, not the form). Act III is a Dali/Magritte seaside mash-up. The movement direction is abysmally unfocused. There is a lot of business with a violin bow. Whether this refers to Baudelaire or André Breton is unclear and probably irrelevant. Castronovo’s ‘Dimmi che vuoi seguirmi alla mia casa’ is the most touching moment, sincere and unguarded. Alieva sings with plummy tone and magnificent spin but acts more like a traduced and virtuous queen than a courtesan in mid-career crisis. Alexandra Hutton (Lisette) and Alvaro Zambrano (Prunier) respond vivaciously to Villazón’s conceit. Stephanie Lauricella (Suzy) stands out in the trio of girlfriends. Roberto Rizzi Brignoli conducts with joyless vigour.

Anna Picard

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