Opera Holland Park – La rondine

La rondine – lyric comedy in three acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Adami after one by Albert Maria Willner & Heinz Reichert [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Magda – Kate Ladner
Lisette – Hye-Youn Lee
Ruggero – Sean Ruane
Prunier – Hal Cazalet
Rambaldo – Nicholas Todorovic
Yvette / Georgette – Stephanie Bosworth
Bianca / Gabriella – Sarah Minns
Suzy / Lolette – Olivia Ray
Voice of the Dawn – Anna Patalong
A waiter – Geoffrey Thompson

Opera Holland Park Chorus

City of London Sinfonia
Peter Selwyn

Tom Hawkes – Director
Peter Rice – Designer
Colin Grenfell – Lighting
Jenny Weston – Choreographer

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 5 July, 2011
Venue: Opera Holland Park, Kensington, London

Despite the rain, which bucketed down, Tom Hawkes’s production of Puccini’s lyric comedy La rondine (The Swallow), about denial of true love, struck a light and, in the third Act, even a sunny note. La rondine has taken a while to make its mark, Royal Opera first presenting it as a concert performance as recently as 1998 (followed by Nicolas Joel’s sumptuous production and a previous one by Opera Holland Park, both in 2002), and a friend swears blind that she saw it in the 1960s at the old Sadler’s Wells. Puccini himself referred to La rondine (written between La Fanciulla del West and Il trittico) as a “dear, forgotten child” – obviously, to judge from the care and detail lavished on this new production, dear to and not forgotten by OHP.

Tom Hawkes’s staging keeps the work’s operetta tendencies on a short leash – comedy and caricature are only there to focus on Magda’s regretful denial of her love for Ruggero, and the Act Two nightclub scene, while looking agreeably bohemian, is otherwise a bit tame. Peter Rice’s sets and costumes, like most of the work from this OHP regular, are closely observed, a blend of 1920s and 1930s idealised chic, right down to (I think) the uber-feminine, queasily erotic William Russell Flint painting on the easel in Magda’s drawing room; and the bleached-out Riviera third Act is simply and effectively done.

Magda, the kept woman, comes from a long line of opera stereotypes, familiar from La traviata, The Marriage Figaro and Der Rosenkavalier, and, indeed, from Puccini’s well-stocked stable of female victims, this particular one poignant rather than tragic. It’s enough that she is a youngish, worldly outsider. Kate Ladner presented her as a slightly older woman – an impression enhanced by her dramatic gown – which carried with it connotations not really in Puccini’s brief. Ladner’s voice, like her presence, veered towards the statuesque, although her voice had the heft and gleam for this demanding role, and she was very affecting in the prophetic Act One aria ‘Chi il bel sogno’.

Sean Ruane, looking as youthful as he did when he sang Ruggero for OHP’s 2002 staging, matched Ladner in terms of ardour and power. His war-wound limp and walking-cane struck a usefully vulnerable note in Act One, a slightly comical one as he hobbled lustily after Magda at the end of Act Two, and limp-free, he hit his stride in a thrilling Act Three duet with Magda. There was chemistry between them, as their needs and realities jostled for supremacy.

The two support roles of Lisette, Magda’s maid and aspiring actress, and Prunier (with whom Lisette is having an affair), the cynical lounge-lizard who misses nothing, are very well cast. Hye-Youn Lee was on terrific soubrette, comic-operetta form as the irrepressible Lisette. Her relief, after her failure as an actress, at being reinstated as Magda’s maid and therefore being part of restoring the world to order is brilliantly directed, her joy putting into context Magda’s bitter resignation to giving up the dream of marital bliss with Ruggero. Hal Cazalet’s light, lyrical tenor contrasted well with Ruane’s more heroic tone, and his strongly characterised, sophisticated Prunier was a delight. The way Lisette and Prunier shadow the main relationship of Magda and Ruggero, which is far more telling than, for example, the Musetta/Marcello affair in La bohème, and of which Puccini was justifiably proud, is vividly realised by Hawkes, with a sharp eye for wry comedy. Nicolas Todorovic was a fine, saturnine Rambaldo, Magda’s wealthy patron, but the role is limited.

Puccini’s web of seductive melody and dance was lovingly conducted by Peter Selwyn, and with the design and direction served the swallow’s flight south and inevitable return north with considerable conviction. Another great show from OHP.

  • Performances continue until July 17
  • OHP

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