Sunday, November 25, 2007

La Rondine, San Francisco Opera

I saw the much-anticipated production of Puccini's La Rondine today, and what an odd duck it is. Written for Vienna, but premiered at Monte Carlo, it's theoretically an operetta, but I think I caught no more than five minutes of spoken dialog in the two and a half hours of running time. There's only one big number, the much-recorded "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta," and it's performed minutes into the first act.

The production's lovely, with art-deco decorative elements and 1920s flapper dresses. (Are the costumes anachronistic for an opera that premiered in 1917? I'm just not sure.) I think the Act I set is a problem, however; I had difficulty hearing most of the singers most of the time, and I suspect it's because most of them were out near the edge of the stage with the couches and piano, far from any reflecting surface other than the stage itself. More than one friend reported the same problem.

The work itself is lovely and slight, a nostalgic variant of La Traviata in which no one dies. It's Puccini, and the music has all the hallmarks of a Puccini score, from the pentatonic scales to the beautiful orchestration.

I'm not quite sure what all the fuss is over Angela Gheorghiu, making her first, overdue appearance here. Sure, it's a beautiful voice, with as much spin and float on top as any soprano I've heard. But she never grabbed me, and she was often hard to hear at less than forte. Anna Christy was a charming Lisette; Gerard Powers an elegant Prunier. Misha Didyk varied from bleating to eloquent as Ruggero; Powers has more the style of the great Tito Schipa, the first Ruggero. Philip Skinner made an imposing and dignified Rambaldo.


M. C- said...

where were you? standing room was quite a scene today.

an odd duck, indeed.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Dress circle, row B, center, a friend's unused ticket, which was good because by the time my party arrived standing room was sold out - and that's what I'd originally intended to do.

Henry Holland said...

I heard this at the Long Beach Opera in the 90's; the cast did such a great job with the wonderful ensemble at the end of the 2nd Act (I think it's at the end of Act 2-damn my memory) that the crowd demanded and got a reprise of it. And the cast sang it even better the second time! A fairly slight score but I think if it's done right can be a nice evening out.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yes, second act, and it's a very good ensemble!

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's even theoretically an operetta. The original Viennese commission was for an operetta, but Puccini soon rejected the concept, opting instead to create something along the lines of Der Rosenkavalier. I'm not sure why the "operetta" appellation has stuck, but to me it seems to be in the same genre as his other works, albeit with some waltzes and a lighter story.