Our thanks to guest critic Robert R. Reilly for contributing this review of the November 16th performance of La Rondine from San Francisco.
I grow old, but the War Memorial Opera House in
The opera house was full to see opera star Angela Gheorghiu shine in her
The problem was not with the stars, but with the setting. And I do not mean the production – which was done in an attractive art deco style – I mean the opera. The neglected La Rondine has been resuscitated largely due to Miss Gheorghiu’s efforts, going back to her fine 1997 recording of it on EMI. Does it deserve it?
Yes, and no. The opera fans and Puccini-lovers with whom I attended La Rondine pronounced it “weak Puccini.” That is because they expected to be swept away. However, despite the story of lovers meeting, and lovers parting, La Rondine is curiously uninvovlng – for Puccini. Puccini usually leaves you in tears. I saw only dry eyes.
One reason is the weak plot. Even for an operetta, which is what Puccini thought he was writing, the love-at-first-sight meeting between Magda and Ruggero seems flimsy. Yet everything depends on it being taken seriously; otherwise, the disillusionment that eventually sets in has no dramatic impact.
No doubt, the plot is meant to reveal that being in love with love cannot sustain itself – it leads to nothing and is infertile. As soon a children are mentioned as a possibility, the relationship comes to a crashing close. However, there is not a lot of tension in seeing something that is so transparently an illusion being swept away. La Rondine is the exposure of the unreality of that world, while at the same time being a celebration of it. Thus, its bittersweet feel.
Also, I more than once thought of Jeannette McDonald and Nelson Eddy moments from
I do not mean to discount the many beauties of this oper(ett)a and the