Fathom Events rebroadcasted first revival of Puccini’s “La Rondine” at the Metropolitan Opera since 1936 as a part of the 2014 Summer Encore Series. Originally written as an operetta, “La Rondine” lacks the gripping storylines characteristic of Puccini’s operas, partially explaining its long absence from the Met stage. Despite its relatively static storyline, “La Rondine” is on the same musical level as some of Puccini’s better-known masterpieces and the passionate duo, soprano Angela Gheorghiu and tenor Roberto Alagna, in the lead roles gave the story the gusto it needed to succeed in this 2009 revival.
The Parisian courtesan, Magda, decides to leave her capricious life in Paris for a life of love in the country with the young, naïve Ruggero. Their love is doomed from the start, but Magda revels in her love ad reveals her past to Ruggero only after he asks her to marry him and return with him to his parents’ humble country home. She is determined not to profane their home or her love for Ruggero and returns to her former life with Rambaldo, leaving Ruggero in despair.
This story, although simple, can be brought to life if performed with enough conviction and passion. Gheorghiu and Alagna, a couple at the time of the broadcast, brought unmatchable tenderness to the roles of the young lovers. The chemistry between the couple propelled the slow-moving plot and kept drawn-out scenes from becoming stale. Their attention to body language intensified the emotional drama created by their ardent vocal lines and Puccini’s sweeping harmonies.
Gheorghiu was most at home in her upper register. She carried the role’s soaring high notes with a gentle, yet unwavering tone; her lower register, however, lacked power and dimension. Though at moments overpowered by the orchestra, Gheorghiu’s tone was always pleasing and her phrases well-shaped and unhurried.
Alagna inhabited the role of Ruggero from start to finish. His bright tone needed little assistance conveying Ruggero’s ardent love, but Alagna’s tender glances and poignant tears brought unexpected depth to the character. Alagna’s performance was filled with vocal intensity and, though sprinkled with some pitch problems, was highly effective and moving.
Marius Brenciu and Lisette Oropesa made a great team in the respective roles of the poet, Prunier, and Magda’s maid, Lisette. Their comedic banter and sassiness was a refreshing and endearing foil to the humble, star-crossed love of Magda and Ruggero. Brenciu’s acting was superb and his voice, elegant. Oropesa was equally impressive. Her voice was shimmering and full, without a hint of strain.
World-famous bass-baritone, Samuel Ramey, made a short, but strong appearance in the role of Rambaldo. Though his wide vibrato detracted from his vocal charisma, Ramey presented very solid physical charisma and wielded impressive vocal heft.
Marco Armiliato led the orchestra with great precision and expression. The dazzling cast and smart production balanced the solitude and bustle, as well as the humor and tragedy evenly and tastefully.