We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Friday, April 26, 2024


 Curtain Call for La Rondine at Manhattan School of Music

Puccini's 1917 opera La Rondine is about falling in love in a moment; we fell in love with the work a couple minutes after Maestro Marcello Cormio raised his baton. There is no doubt that Mo. Cormio was completely in touch with Puccini's lavish melodies as well as the master's use of dance rhythms. As a matter of fact he appeared to be dancing on the podium and his obvious enthusiasm for the work was communicated to the student orchestra which responded in a manner that a professional orchestra might envy.

Puccini appears to have rewritten many of his operas; we believe we have seen several versions of his Madama Butterfly and we are rather opinionated about our favorite. That he also wrote three versions of La Rondine was unknown to us until we did some reading.  Director Katherine M. Carter wisely chose the first version in which our heroine Magda has agency. A century later, we are in a position to admire a woman who weighs her options, thinks about the future with a clear eye and makes her own decisions. We will not give away the ending here because we hope you will go and see for yourself, since there are several more performances this weekend.

It might have been tempting for a self-serving director to have moved the plot to contemporary times but we are very glad that Ms. Carter did not. It just doesn't ring true to tell a story about a "kept woman" who feels like an outcast, not when females college students have no shame about becoming "sex workers".

One could make a case for La Rondine being considered an operetta due to its lively tunes, its use of tropes familiar to us from Johann Strauss Jr.'s Die Fledermaus and its sharing of tunefulness with the operettas of Victor Herbert. However, we make no such distinction between opera and operetta. It is simply gorgeous music lending gravity to a story that resonates with us. Who has not regretted fleeing from a tempting situation in their youth, then hoping to recreate that situation years later. One recognizes that one cannot put one's foot in the same river twice. The river of time flows on and cannot be stopped.

The lovely Magda, so convincingly portrayed by the silver-voiced soprano Seolbin Oh, occupies a grand apartment, presumably paid for by her "patron" Rambaldo (the fine baritone Blake Stevenson who somehow manages to look and act like an older man) who provides her with costly gifts. She has a sassy maid named Lisette (the funny Sanne Vleugels) who thinks nothing of purloining her mistress' clothes for a night on the town. She has charming friends--Yvette (Abigail Williams), Bianca (Hailey Hye-In Ji) and Suzy (Grace Verbic)-- gorgeously costumed by Rodrigo Mu├▒oz--who gossip about the newest trends in romance. Attending her salon is the poet Prunier (the sweet voiced tenor SeongBeom Choi) who gets to sing the opera's most famous aria "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" which becomes a duet when Magda adds her verse.

A young man arrives (as one does in La Traviata) who is the son of a friend of Rambaldo; the women fuss over Ruggero (tenor Fernando Silva-Gorbea)  and recommend that he spend his first night in Paris at Bullier's. Everyone leaves and Magda, dreaming of a missed opportunity of her youth, decides to go to the same nightclub. Of course, she winds up sitting with Ruggero. Of course they fall in love. Of course Lisette and Prunier show up. Of course Rambaldo also shows up.  And Magda breaks off her relationship with him.

As in Act II of La Traviata, the couple spend an idyllic time in the country and get to sing a beautiful love duet.  However, Ruggero's father does not show up to chastise him. On the other hand, his mother wants to welcome Magda (now calling herself Paulette) to the family and is anticipating a grandchild. And this is where our storytelling ends. You will have to see what happens for yourself.

You will also have to make up your own mind Dear Reader, whether this is a comedy or a tragedy. For us it was neither, rather a bittersweet tale that reminds us that we do not always get what we want and that every event in our lives has its own time and place. Thus, the resonance that makes this work of art meaningful and relatable. We learned (thanks, Wikipedia) that in 1995, one of those self-important directors of Eurotrash created a version in which Magda drowns herself at the end! This version was picked up by the Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera. We are so happy that Manhattan School of Music and Ms. Carter did not burden this beautiful work with a toxic ending. One wants to leave this very human story with a wry smile, not sobbing in grief. We can save our sobs for Butterfly, Violetta, and Mimi.

We would like to give a shout to the many members of the Ensemble who provided such a lively and believable atmosphere to the scene at Bullier's with choreography by Stephanie Sutherland. Chorus Master Jackson McKinnon is to be praised as is set designer Brendan Gonzales Boston who created a glamorous Parisian salon as well as a stunning red nightclub.

© meche kroop

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