La rondine, Opera by G. Puccini
After a string of major opera hits, the 1910’s found Giacomo Puccini in something of a creative rut. A commission from the Carltheater in Vienna for an operetta-styled piece got the composer’s creativity flowing again. With an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Adami, Puccini spent over two years crafting La rondine, a light-hearted and musically liberated work whose intended premiere in Vienna was prevented by World War I. Eventually, the piece was presented at Grand Théâtre de Monte Carlo on 27 March 1917. Even though La rondine was received well by audiences and critics alike, it quickly took a back seat to Puccini’s bigger hits. His Italian publisher Tito Ricordi infamously dubbed it ‘bad Lehár’ and refused to buy it. Nevertheless, La rondine bears all the markings of a Puccini masterpiece, and hearing it performed live is a relatively rare occasion not to be missed. This season, Volksoper Wien brings the opera to its originally intended home town of Vienna.
The plot of La rondine begins at Magda de Civry’s salon in 19th-century Paris. She is a highly sought-after courtesan and entertains a number of local highlife personalities and bohemians. Among the latter is the poet Prunier, an idealist with a strong belief in romantic love. The arrival of the young Ruggero stirs Magda’s nostalgia: as she recalls her youth, the endless parties, and her first true romance, she quickly falls for the stranger, which sets her on a possible collision course with her long-term protector Rambaldo. A series of comical and exciting scenes based on disguises and mistaken identity follow, and as the love between Ruggero and Magda grows, so does the courtesan’s doubt that it will last because it is built upon deceit. After months of happiness at the French Riviera, the anticipated resolution arrives – but what will it be?
La rondine, or The Swallow in English, is among Puccini’s hidden gems. Though not as popular as his A-list titles, it is a wonderful example of the Maestro’s versatility. Embracing an operetta-style atmosphere, Puccini crafted playful arias and ensembles and composed music that perfectly complemented the romantic, melodramatic and humorous plot. Volksoper Wien dusts off a somewhat forgotten but thoroughly enjoyable opera this season.