Deutsche Oper Berlin: “La rondine”

Deutsche Oper Berlin – Season 2014/2015    
Lyrical Comedy in three acts. Libretto by Giuseppe Adami after the German original “Die Schwalbe” by Alfred Maria Willner and Heinz Reichert
Music by Giacomo Puccini
Chor & Orchester  der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Opernballett der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Statisterie der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Kinderchor der Staatsoper Unter den Linden
Conductor Roberto Rizzi Brignoli
Chorus William Spaulding
Production Rolando Villazón
Stage Johannes Leiacker
Costumes Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Light Davy Cunningham
Choreography Silke Sense
Berlin, Deutsche Oper, 8th March 2015

Star tenor Rolando Villazón likes being in Berlin, as a singer, a musical all-rounder or now as a producer. And he does his job well, that is not worse than others. Perhaps he was not lucky enough to have chosen the right work. Any other opera by Giacomo Puccini is considered a hit in the repertory of an opera house but La Rondine. He composed this „lyrical comedy“ exactly 100 years ago. It was first staged in Monte Carlo in 1917 and has ever since been in the shadow of his later masterpieces. After all it was considered an unsuccessful operetta or “bad Lehár” as Puccini himself cited his publisher Ricordi. On the other hand, it seems to be of some advantage that hardly anyone in the theatre has ever seen the work. The three act plot of the libretto by Giuseppe Adami proves from the dramatic point of view a simplified rehash of Verdi’s “La Traviata” or Massenet’s “Manon”. Puccini poured some sweet euphony over this mixture as if the 2nd act of “La Bohème” was to be extended to an evening filling opera hit. The music abounds in lots of citations from Bohème, Butterfly and Fanciulla indeed garnished with some jazz elements. Rolando Villazón consequently shifts the action to the “roaring twenties” with glitter curtain and Charleston dresses á la “Cabaret” in the 2nd act (costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel). Lisette does not appear in a black silk code as by the libretto but a tuxedo and top hat. Stage designer Johannes Leiacker puts on a show of great splendour by reviving the Fin de Siècle. In the 1st act the stage looks like the spacious lobby of a Grand Hotel: sumptuously upholstered lounge chairs, ornamental palms, dark wood, lots of gold. The backdrop is dominated by a stage big version of Tizian’s “resting Venus” in a huge golden stucco frame. She will remain there for the rest of the night as a symbol of love, cut into pieces by mirrors in the 2nd act when the frame is turned into a show stage with a silver curtain at the “Bullier” and as a silhouette of a blue sky with cotton-wool clouds in the 3rd act set at the French Riviera including a jolly-boat, a huge snail and a travel agency beach with plenty of sand spread on the high polish stage floor. Villazón adds some surrealistic element to the production by three faceless masked men in white suits who are around the heroine Magda throughout the performance. When she leaves Ruggero at the end she puts the same white mask on him to join the line of her former anonymous lovers. Roberto Rizzi Brignoli conducts the Orchester der Deutschen Oper in an elegant and transparent Puccini style with Art déco sound, which undoubtedly has its merits. But it is a pity that the composer has shot almost all his aria bolt in the 1st act with the hit “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta”. When things come to a head in the 3rd act and the so far operetta turns into some tragedy typical of Puccini, the music needs to become more dramatic but the conductor fails to do so. La Rondine is a Parlando opera rather than an operetta, very common as a result of Wagner who could do without big arias as well but he had the “endless melody” unlike Puccini who was not Wagner at all. So the opera can only succeed with a 1st class cast and that is the snag. Aurelia Florian who was scheduled for performances later this season saved the première for Dinara Alieva who had fallen ill. Florian sings with a slightly dry soprano and a sometimes vague intonation. She sings as if just for herself, a beautiful voice in fact with problems of vocal projection. Charles Castronovo has been on the brink of being a star without having become one. He has a reliable tenor but also a reliably interchangeable one. Even better in their roles: the buffo couple Alexandra Hutton as a lively Lisette and Álvaro Zambrano as the poet Prunier of high energy but little humorous effect. The experienced baritone Stephen Bronk is a convincing Rambaldo. In a cast of mostly young singers with scholarships Siobhan Stagg, Elbenita Kajtazi and Stephanie Lauricella stand out as Magda’s friends Yvette, Bianca and Suzy with partly acrobatic movements and Noel Bouley (Perichaud), Matthew Newlin (Gobin), Thomas Lehman (Crébillon) and Carlton Ford (Majordomo). Chor (chorus master William Spaulding), Opernballet (choreography by Silke Sense) and Statisterie of the Deutsche Oper were as highly acclaimed at the end of the evening as the production team around Rolando Villazón whose joy about the success was obvious. We will see if “La Rondine” keeps a fixed place in the repertory of the opera house. Photo© Bettina Stöß