Saturday, January 12, 2013
Metropolitan Opera – Puccini’s La Rondine. January 11, 2013.
Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, Balcony, Set D101 ($77.50).
Conductor – Ion Martin; Prunier – Marius Brenciu; Magda – Kristine Opolais; Lisette – Anna Christy; Rambaldo – Dwayne Croft; Ruggero – Giuseppe Filianoti.
Story. Magda is the mistress of the rich banker Rambaldo. While she enjoys her life of ease and culture, she also yearns for true romance. Rambaldo’s friend son Ruggero visits Paris and is told to visit the dance hall Bulliers to get a taste of Paris night life. Magda impulsively decides to disguise herself and visit Bulliers. Ruggero and Magda get to know each other, fall in love, and decide to start a new life together, eventually ending up in a hotel in Nice. The two are running out of money, so Ruggero writes his family to ask for money, and also asks their permission to marry Magda. When Ruggero’s mother writes back with her blessings, Magda decides her past makes it impossible to marry him and leaves.
When I went to exchange our Maria Stuarda opera tickets from last week to this week, the only reasonably priced tickets were up in the family circle. I used the balance to buy two balcony tickets for tonight’s performance.
We left around 4:30 pm for New York City, and I was looking forward to a reasonable meal around Lincoln Center. When we left our house, the delays at both the Lincoln and the Holland tunnels were around 10, 15 minutes. We decided on the Lincoln, and what a mistake! We probably caught the center tube traffic changeover for the evening rush hour, so it ended up taking over an hour from the time we left Exit 16E on the Turnpike to the time we emerged from the tunnel. What was really puzzling was that there was little traffic in the City itself. The upshot is the trip took over 2 hours, and we had time only to eat at Europan again.
Tonight’s performance was the first for this opera for this season. It was also the debut of the Latvian soprano Opolais. In the past I had always been amazed at the depth of Met’s talent, and I expected a similar experience.
Overall this was only a so-so experience. Let’s start with Opolais. She hit all the notes, and had good volume. But there was not a lot of stage presence, and coupled with the rather wooden delivery of her lines, this was probably not the greatest start to a Met career. Let’s hope she gets better in subsequent performances, or more importantly, gets roles that match her better.
The leading and supporting men also did only okay (Filianoti as Ruggero, and Brenciu as Prunier). Their voices, especially that of Prunier, did not carry that well. Ruggero’s role calls for some high notes which Filianoti hit with falsetto.
A few words about the sets. The set for Act 1 worked quite well. However, Act 2 was a bit elaborate for a bar (Bullier) supposed frequented by the common folk and tourists. The set and the people milling around invoked the image of Renoir’s “Le Moulin de la Galette” for me; Anne thought Renoir’s painting was more colorful (true.) The set for Act 3 had the look of the Mediterranean hotel that it was supposed to be, with columns decorated by mosaics.
The opera is billed as a tragedy, and is indeed one in the sense that Magda and Ruggero ended up separating. However, most of the opera had a strong comical flavor to it. As drama the comic parts are a bit incongruent with where the story is going. That may reflect life, but we go to operas to escape life for a couple of hours, don’t we? In any case, the audience may end up not be emotionally invested in the protagonists and may end up thinking, “so she ends up leaving him, what’s the big deal.” As the Program Notes points out, no one dies in the opera; Anne added that she didn’t become a nun either; so maybe there can only be limited sadness in this anyway.
I am particularly disappointed at the end of Act 3 where Madga and Ruggero belted out a rather long duet. I thought it would have been much more effective if they had done it softly. They were not so much mad at one another, but instead came to the realization that being together wasn’t going to be possible for the two of them.
The title “La Rondine” is a bit mysterious. Its first reference is when Prunier predicted that Magda would fly south in pursuit of love and happiness like the swallow. That is only a part of the story, as far as I am concerned. I would have expected a bit more similarity between what happens to Magda and what a swallow does, but perhaps that is asking for too much.
The Program Notes has any case of oversell again – no doubt overcompensating for the overall weak story and music. It goes as far as saying “Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso” can make a valid claim to being the single most gorgeous tune this composer ever produced. It escaped me altogether.
Since this is the first performance, I am sure there are no published reviews yet. [Note added 1/25/2013: New York Times has this background piece on the opera that is quite interesting.]