Opera Essentials: La rondine
A guide to Puccini's tender opera.
The Story Begins…
When the elegant courtesan Magda de Civry meets the young and innocent Ruggero Lastouc, she is smitten, and begins to imagine the life they might live together. But can she forget her past and make her dream reality?
Nicolas Joël’s naturalistic production pays homage to the final years of the era of the great courtesans. Art Deco is evoked in the elegant salon of Act I – with sumptuous furniture, beautiful frescoes and a white grand piano – and in the mosaic tiles of the hotel in Act III. Magda’s glamorous costume in Act I contrasts with the simple print dress she wears in Act II’s brilliant evocation of Paris café life.
La rondine was originally commissioned for the Carltheater in Vienna as an operetta; a German libretto was supplied. Puccini insisted on writing a through-composed work in Italian, and employed the librettist Giuseppe Adami to adapt the text. In 1915 Italy entered World War I, fighting against the Austrians. Writing an opera for Vienna was now impossible and La rondine had its premiere in neutral Monte Carlo in 1917. By then it had been transformed from its operetta origins, not least in terms of the story, which has a more melancholy ending than most operettas.
Dances and Beautiful Melodies
One operetta quality that does remain in La rondine is the use of popular dances, particularly the waltz. This is most prominent in Act II, when two waltz themes are combined. In the same act, Puccini experimented with the tango, one-step and foxtrot. Along with this dance-inspired music, La rondine contains some exquisite arias, particularly Magda’s dreamy ‘Chi il bel sogno di Doretta’ in Act I.
La rondine was slow to become successful, in part because of its ‘mixed’ genre: neither a comedy nor a tragedy. However, in recent years it has had regular performances worldwide, and become hailed, as Puccini himself called it, as a ‘jewel’ in the repertory.
La rondine runs from 5 – 21 July. Tickets are on sale now. The production is sponsored by Coutts. Generous philanthropic support was given by Mr and Mrs Christopher W.T. Johnston and The American Friends of Covent Garden.