|About this Recording
8.660253-54 - PUCCINI, G.: Rondine (La) [Opera] (Puccini Festival, 2007)
Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924)
Commedia lirica in Three Acts
Magda - Svetla Vassileva
Orchestra and Chorus of the Puccini Festival
La rondine was first performed at the Théâtre de l’Opéra, Monte Carlo on 27 March 1917
Among the mature operas of Giacomo Puccini, La rondine surely remains the least known, perhaps unjustifiably outshone in the public favour by La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Turandot; but the story of this charming work’s creation is a complex, fascinating trail, one that led to an innovative production at Torre del Lago during the 2007 Giacomo Puccini Festival, as presented on these CDs (also available on DVD: Naxos 2.110266).
Following the success in both the United States and Europe of La fanciulla del west, with its colourful Californian Gold Rush setting, Puccini sought an appealing subject for his next work. Friends and collaborators offered several suggestions, including R.D. Blackmore’s novel Lorna Doone and Oscar Wilde’s A Florentine Tragedy, but neither these, nor a handful of other possibilities, seemed suitable and were rejected. It was on a visit to Vienna, to attend the local première of La fanciulla del west in October 1913, that Puccini was first encouraged to compose a lighter piece which, in due course, became La rondine (The Swallow).
During his Austrian sojourn Puccini met Heinrich Berté and Otto Eibenschütz, directors of the Carl-Theater, who offered him a most generous fee to compose an operetta. He seemed to like the idea. For an operetta he would be required to write less music than for a through composed opera, since spoken dialogue would be included, and shortly afterwards he was presented with a libretto for approval. Following an apparent change of heart, Puccini told a friend that it would not do—he did not, after all, wish to write an operetta. He would, however, be happy to compose ‘…A comic opera, yes, like Rosenkavalier, but more amusing and more organic’. Almost three years earlier, Richard Strauss’s lush Viennese comedy had been premièred in Dresden and perhaps Puccini had hopes of achieving similar acclaim with his proposed new work. A fresh libretto in German was prepared by the writers Alfred Willner and Heinz Reichert and, despite the fact that Puccini neither spoke nor read the language fluently, he accepted the text and signed the contract.
The intention was that the German libretto would be translated into Italian to provide a basis for Puccini’s musical composition. Once the score was complete and any textual changes had been made, the Italian would be re-translated into German for its presentation at the Carl-Theater. The writer whom Puccini chose to collaborate with him in this complex arrangement was Giuseppe Adami, later librettist of Il tabarro and Turandot, and their project started well. The composer wrote that the new work was: ‘…a light, sentimental opera, with touches of comedy, agreeable, limpid to sing with a little waltz music …’ He might fairly have added that it also includes one of his most enchanting melodies, ‘Chi il bel sogno di Doretta’, the number for which La rondine is now best remembered; by late 1914 the first act was finished.
The second and third acts followed slowly and with much anguish for Puccini, who wrote to Adami: ‘I am utterly discouraged! That third act is tormenting me to such a horrible degree that perhaps La rondine will remain, with its two acts only, to be published after the death of the composer. The plot won’t do—it doesn’t convince me…’
The tragedy that overtook Europe in August 1914 with the outbreak of war naturally overturned plans for the opera’s first performance. In 1915 Italy declared war on Austria and it was clear that while hostilities lasted there could be no Vienna performance of the Italian composer’s opera, despite the contractual agreement. Undeterred, Puccini completed the score and in April 1916 he was able to write: ‘La rondine is absolutely finished! I think the last scene is very good’. He could also negotiate (on neutral territory) with representatives of the Carl-Theater about an alternative first production and it was agreed that the première would take place in Monte Carlo the following year. Exceptionally amongst Puccini’s oeuvre La rondine was not accepted by his publisher, Tito Ricordi, who inelegantly described it as “Austrian folly” and “bad Lehár”; so this, alone of all his operas, was published by the rival Milanese firm of Sonzogno.
By this time Puccini was already engaged on his next operatic venture, the ambitious Il trittico, a group of three contrasting operas (Il tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi), which were first performed shortly after the First World War at the New York Metropolitan; this was one of the most active periods of his life.
La rondine finally took to the Monte Carlo stage in March 1917 with a largely Italian cast and proved a great success. Magda was sung by 24-year-old Gilda Dalla Rizza, Ruggero by Tito Schipa, Ines Maria Ferraris was Lisette and Francesco Dominici, Prunier. The conductor was Gino Marinuzzi. It was the last occasion on which Puccini attended the world première of one of his operas. During May the original soprano and conductor braved the dangers of the Atlantic when it was presented at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. In June, at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, it was less enthusiastically received, despite the presence of the young Beniamino Gigli in the cast. The first performance in Vienna finally took place in 1920, at the Volksoper. In the United States La rondine was staged at the New York Met in March 1928, with Lucrezia Bori and a somewhat older Gigli, and the first British production was by Opera Viva in London in 1965. The opera finally reached Covent Garden in May 2002 with Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna in the leading rôles.
Puccini may have believed that he had completed composition in April 1916—but he had not. He was soon changing, transposing and improving, having not only second but third thoughts as well. The character Prunier became a baritone (but was later changed back to a tenor); an aria was composed for Ruggero’s entrance in Act I (which, following current practice, is included in the present performance) and Act III was considerably altered. Most of these 1917–1921 modifications were retained for just a few performances, after which the original version was generally re-adopted.
The dramatic imagination of more recent directors, however, has brought further changes to La rondine. For a 1994 Turin production the Italian composer and conductor Lorenzo Ferrero (born 1951) was invited to orchestrate sections of the third (1921) version, some of which had survived only in piano score, the original full score of this edition having been destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. Specifically, this reorchestration involved episodes from Act III: the Prelude, the scene with the vendeuses and the Magda/Rambaldo duet. These sections, together with the inclusion of the tenor aria in the first act and Ruggero’s furious desertion of Magda at the opera’s close (rather than her leaving him), have now been brought together to create yet another version of La rondine, which was first performed by Opera North in Leeds in 2006 and was staged at Torre del Lago the following year. This release is thus the world première recording of the fourth edition of Puccini’s masterpiece. Ferrero’s skilful scoring has also been heard in several other productions of the third version throughout the world, attracting and delighting fresh audiences. Like their predecessors, versions three and four are published by Casa Musicale Sonzogno in Milan.
La rondine may never draw the great audiences that some of Puccini’s other works have attracted for over a hundred years; but it remains a lyrical, poignant piece of theatre that certainly deserves to be better known. Neither grand opera nor operetta, it is in a distinguished class of its own.
With acknowledgments to The Complete Operas of Puccini by Charles Osborne, published by Gollancz, from which some quotations have been taken.
The opera is set in the mid 19th century.
 The poet Prunier is entertaining a group of Magda’s guests by discussing the notion of sentimental love. They scoff at the idea but Magda herself tells them not to take it so lightly. Prunier mentions Doretta, the heroine of his latest verse, and the ladies ask him to sing for them.
 He does so and relates how Doretta has a dream in which a king offers her wealth in return for love. She rejects the king, but the verse ends there—Prunier has not yet completed the story. Strangely prescient, Magda offers an ending, in which Doretta truly does find love with a young student, but Magda’s friends tease her for her romanticism.
 Magda’s protector, Rambaldo, joins them and makes great show of presenting her with an extravagant necklace. She hands him back his gift and claims that this largesse does not influence her feelings on the subject of love.
 Lisette, Magda’s maid, tells Rambaldo that a young man is waiting outside. Magda agrees that Rambaldo may see him and Lisette is instructed to admit him.
 Prunier shows apparent distaste for Lisette’s overfamiliar attitude but Magda supports her maid, saying she brings sunshine into her life. Yvette, Suzy and Bianca muse over Rambaldo’s great generosity to Magda…
 …who responds, telling them that money is not everything; she wistfully remembers a long-past incident at Bulliers Restaurant when an opportunity for true love nearly came her way.
 Her guests suggest that Prunier might use her story in a future verse. The poet claims that he can read a woman’s future in the palm of her hand and he offers to read Magda’s.
 Ruggero Lastouc, who has just arrived in the city, enters; he has been waiting to meet Rambaldo, an old friend of his father’s, for whom he has a letter of introduction. Prunier is with Magda, reading her palm.
 He prophesies that she, like a swallow, may fly towards the sun and find happiness, but also hints darkly that fate is two-faced.
 Ruggero looks forward to the many pleasures that Paris affords and asks Rambaldo where he should visit on this, his first evening in the capital.
 Rambaldo in turn questions Prunier, whose cynical attitude prompts the group of friends to protest. Lisette, in particular, enthuses at the prospect of Ruggero’s first experience of the wonderful city. The friends all offer suggestions but agree that Bulliers, with its many pleasures, is the place to go. As he leaves, Magda shows concern for Ruggero.
 Rambaldo and Magda’s other guests depart but she herself stays behind and Lisette leaves her alone, as she remembers Prunier’s earlier prophesy.
 But, thinking again, she remembers Bulliers and runs to her boudoir with a plan in mind.
 Lisette returns, wearing some of Magda’s finest clothes, and meets Prunier, who declares his love for Lisette, a fact which has been carefully concealed from their friends; but he criticises her choice of hat and cape, which she changes. She asks his advice about her make up and they set out, kissing before they leave the salon.
 Magda emerges from her boudoir, dressed plainly as a grisette. Remembering the story of Doretta she, too, departs, clearly determined not to be recognised but anticipating an interesting evening…chez Bullier.
 A large crowd of colourful dancers, students and flower sellers are celebrating at Bulliers.
 A group of men watch a hesitant young woman enter and one of them offers to escort her. She is Magda, but refuses his offer, claiming that she already has a rendezvous. By chance, her gaze falls on Ruggero who arrived shortly before her and…
 …she approaches his table. He is pleased to welcome the simply-dressed Magda, as she seems so different from the other girls there; but he does not recognise her as his hostess from earlier in the evening. He asks her to dance…
 …and she, as if in a dream, agrees. They join the spirited waltzing crowd on the floor.
 As Prunier and Lisette arrive they argue; she complains that he always tries to educate her and wants to stop her having fun. But then they, too, join in the dancing.
 Magda and Ruggero return to their table and she relives an old memory of an evening at Bulliers. Still not recognising her, Ruggero asks his new-found friend who she is and she writes ‘Paulette’, which he finds charming. He tells her his name…
 …and they talk affectionately. As they kiss, some of the young partygoers call for a little quiet consideration for Magda and Ruggero.
 Amazed at what she sees, Lisette recognises them but Prunier—deliberately—does not accept that it is Magda, accusing Lisette of having too much to drink. Ruggero introduces ‘Paulette’ and Lisette tells him that her mistress at home is very much like her; but Magda’s secret is soon confidentially shared with her maid and Prunier.
 All four drink a toast to love…
 …as both couples express their feelings.
 When Rambaldo arrives unexpectedly, Prunier helps Magda’s predicament by asking Ruggero to take Lisette into the garden; his real intention, however, is that Lisette should ensure Ruggero is out of Rambaldo’s sight. As the other guests start to leave Magda refuses to do so and is confronted by Rambaldo. He demands to know what she means by her behaviour at Bulliers; in an outburst she tells her protector that she has found love at last and, asking his forgiveness, says that all is over between them. He leaves abruptly, hoping that she will not regret her actions. The room empties and Magda is left alone.
 Distant voices welcome the dawning day and sing a quiet warning not to be too trusting of love.
 Ruggero returns to his ‘Paulette’ and, still uncertain, Magda proclaims her fears, her happiness and her love.
 Magda and Ruggero enter the garden, telling of their happiness in the secluded retreat. Each has brought the other love and refreshment and they exchange promises never to part
 Three vendeuses from Thompsons fashion house join them, offering Magda a fine array of clothing and accessories. Ruggero wants them sent off as, in any case, he and Magda have no money to spend on such things.
 As the vendeuses go on their way, Ruggero assures Magda that their poverty won’t last for much longer; he has written to his father for money and permission to marry her. Magda is surprised at this unexpected development but Ruggero again swears his undying love.
 He invites Magda to visit his home, set in beautiful countryside. He assures her of a contented life perhaps, in time, with a child of their own. Ruggero leaves the garden and Magda is troubled by his fervent hopes.
 Alone, she cannot decide whether to reveal to him her past life as a kept woman.
 She leaves, unseen by Prunier and Lisette who now arrive. They are arguing again; Prunier has tried to launch Lisette into a singing career, but her performance the previous evening was a disaster and she is trying to avoid meeting anyone who might have seen it.
 Magda’s butler appears and Prunier asks him to tell his mistress that two friends from Paris have come to visit. Lisette irritably complains that her dreams of a career have been shattered and that she wants just a little solitude.
 Magda greets them, showing how happy she is, but Prunier says that her friends in Paris cannot understand how this new lifestyle can suit her, sacrificing so much that she has previously held dear. It is agreed that Lisette will resume her former duties as Magda’s maid. Prunier confides to Magda that he comes with a message from someone who is greatly concerned for her welfare. The name Rambaldo is implied but not mentioned. Magda protests and Prunier will say no more on the matter. Before going, he promises to see Lisette later in the evening.
 The maid is glad to be working again for Magda and begins her duties.
 Rambaldo suddenly appears and confronts Magda. He has been waiting for her for three months.
 Friends have been asking when to expect the return to Paris of the migrating ‘swallow’. He urges her to consider her future and furtively allows her see his wallet—full of money—which he lets fall to the ground.
 This meeting has been witnessed by Ruggero, so Rambaldo leaves hurriedly. Ruggero furiously challenges Magda with news he has just received—that Magda has been Rambaldo’s lover—and he demands an explanation of her lies. She protests that Ruggero has saved her from her former life and that she has been faithful to him since they met. He sees the wallet and, realising it is Rambaldo’s, flings the money at Magda.
 Magda, broken-hearted, pleads for Ruggero’s understanding but he can see only her betrayal of his love and he storms out furiously.
 Lisette joins her distraught mistress, who tells her what has happened; all is over, her dream is at an end. Lisette offers hope but Magda wants simply to be left alone with her grief. The swallow that flew happily for a while towards the sun has fallen to earth…
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