Kept women & a snapshot of life in La Rondine
The past few weeks have been an intense news cycle, and my mind has been going a mile a minute. So when I sat down in the Ordway Theater for Minnesota Opera's season opener, La Rondine, I was a little taken aback. Isn't Puccini supposed to be full of suicide and violence? Shouldn't there be explosive highs and lows to the music and drama? With La Rondine, Puccini gives us an introspective look at a snapshot of life. There is not a lot of background of any of the characters, in fact a good deal of the opera is just conversation about...well, life.
The sets by Sara Brown were wonderful, evoking such an idyllic atmosphere and character of the pre-war French bourgeois lifestyle - that when Magda's party guests came out after the curtain rose my brain was shocked to hear them prattling on in Italian. The curtain opened a mysterious older woman (well dressed) removed sheets from the furniture and retired to the back corner. I believe this omnipresent figure is the Aunt that Magda ran away from. I forget the exact number of times she appeared, but I found it somewhat distracting. It kept nagging the question of why Magda left her Aunt, that was never answered.
The production was headed by Celine Byrne as Magda de Civry. She was in one word, exquisite. Her pianissimos were spot-on and plentiful. She looked gorgeous in the costumes by Montana Levi Blanco. In her showcase aria "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" I would have liked a little bit more "oompf" (and from perusing through her YouTube channel, I know she is more than capable of "oompf") but this was probably opening night jitters or conductors choice. Overall, she showed the audience vocal artistry at its finest. Her leading man Ruggero sung by Leonardo Capalbo. He had a very strong sound, and I couldn't tell that this was his role debut In the second act there was a peppy scene with the wonderful chorus at Bruillers. There was some well rehearsed and integrated dancing choreographed by Heidi Spesard-Noble.
On the lighter front, the comical couple of the maid and poet were wonderful. Newcomer and very recent graduate of University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory Lisa Marie Rogali as Lisette was enchanting. Her demeanor bold and sassy, she got the most laughs of the night. Prunier was sung by Christian Sanders. The two had great chemistry and added some sparks to the night.
Director Octavio Cardenas took the final scene in a different direction than most productions. Once Magda reveals her past life and convinces Ruggero to leave her, a soldier comes in with a musket and uniform and gives it to Ruggero. Ruggero then marches off stage while a projection of his grave marker is cast on stage - an obvious allusion to Ruggero being drafted in World War One and dies. (Not so fun fact: the outbreak of WWI delayed the premier of this opera). Perhaps Cardenas put this in the end to make the audience realize that Ruggero lost his innocence just before the world lost theirs to a war the likes of had never been seen?
The choice of making La Rondine and Verdi's La Traviata the book ends to the season is interesting. It is interesting to look at two "kept women" who fall in love with the young and impetus tenor, retire to the countryside, and then after a while have to part ways out of shame of their past and in the name of honor. Magda goes back to her old life and Ruggero is left heart broken. Magda had a choice, and ultimately Violetta does not.
Minnesota Opera's production of La Rondine runs through October 14. For details and tickets, click here.