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Washington's 'La Rondine'

available at Amazon
Puccini, La Rondine (dir. M. Domingo),
A. Arteta, Washington National Opera,
E. Villaume

(released on July 14, 2009)
Decca 074 3335 | 1h50
You may recall Spanish soprano Ainhoa Arteta, who made a splash in the 1990s, when she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, followed by some appearances at the Met and a star turn as Magda in this somewhat tiresome production of Puccini's La Rondine. The opera is problematic, the score having ended up with three different versions and two very different endings, all left in a non-authoritative mess by the composer at the time of his death. The Metropolitan Opera, where the opera was given its American premiere in 1928, quickly let the opera sink into oblivion, as have most houses around the world until recently. Marta Domingo's staging, given by several companies in Europe and America, uses the more troubling ending (if you don't mind the spoiler, see this review -- suffice it to say that it is a very strange way to end a work that started out as an imitation of Viennese comic operetta) and is outfitted with extremely traditional and slightly over-upholstered costumes and sets (designed by Michael Scott) very similar to most of her stagings. The video, with passable sound and too many closeups, was made for telecast on PBS Great Performances.

Marcus Haddock has a powerful ring in his voice as Ruggero, and a discomfort on stage suits the awkwardness of the character (Michael Scott's costume for him in the third act, however, is a little too close to this). Arteta is a beautiful Magda, if a little stiff of gesture and presence, and she sings well, with the necessary transparency in the soft moments of the big arias, although her pitch tends to shade too much to the flat side a little too often. The comic pairing of Inva Mula and Richard Troxell sing well as Lisette and Prunier and are not too annoying. Emmanuel Villaume leads the WNO Orchestra in a sensitive rendition of the score. Without much to compete against among available DVDs, this is not a bad choice.

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