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Robert Cummings
Classical Net, August 2009

La Rondine has never come close to achieving the success of Puccini’s big three (Tosca, Bohème and Butterfly), nor has it even rivaled Turandot, Manon Lescaut or La Fanciulla del West. Puccini himself wasn’t satisfied with La Rondine and periodically made revisions of it after its tepid reception in 1917, leaving a third version of the work incomplete at his death in 1924. This production, from the August, 2007 Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago, Italy, is a compilation of versions, using a 2006 edition that features some orchestrations by Lorenzo Ferrero of the third version. What is used here are Acts I and II of the original version, and Act III of the third (incomplete) version. The major difference in the story line is that Ruggero leaves Magda, not vice versa, as in the original.

Those familiar with the opera will want to obtain this performance for its quite different take on this Puccini work. Other opera lovers will find it an enjoyable experience even if they’re not enchanted by second-drawer Puccini. I say “second drawer” because this opera, fine though it is, is not up to the level of the composer’s greatest operas. That said, whatever version is used, it contains some fine music, like the Act II quartet Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso, which for sheer melodic beauty can rival any Puccini number.

But this production’s worth does not rest solely on the uniqueness of its edition or on a couple of hit numbers. Indeed—Svetla Vassileva’s portrayal of Magda is simply stunning, both vocally and dramatically. This Bulgarian soprano is a major star, no doubt. Russian-born Maya Dashuk also turns in fine work as Lisette. She is another singer headed toward the top, if she isn’t already there. What is it about female Eastern European singers these days? In the last decade or so they have moved into prominence, maybe dominance, on the world’s operatic stages. It isn’t just Anna Netrebko, Angela Gheorghiu, Elīna Garanča and one or two others. There are many, but I don’t want to make this digression too long by comprising a list. Suffice it to say that the days when the Russians and Eastern Europeans were represented by Vishnevskaya, Benackova and a handful of others are over. And the vocal riches we are gaining in this harvest, as evidenced here by Vassileva and Dashuk, are immense.

Back to this production…Fabio Sartori as Ruggero is also excellent: his voice has great tonal appeal and his acting is fully convincing. The rest of the cast is strong too, and the conductor Alberto Veronesi leads the proceedings with judicious tempos and a fine sense for dramatic flow. The sound reproduction is a bit dry and recessed, but the camera work is excellent. Some may find certain scenes here lacking proper lighting: at times parts of the stage are much better lit than others. The costuming features full-skirted dresses and gowns for the women that are quite attractive and the male singers are attired appropriately as well…Recommended.

Robert J Farr
MusicWeb International, June 2009

So much of the success of any performance revolves around the role of Magda. Whilst Gheorghiu has made a name for herself in the role, in this performance Svetla Vassileva at least matches her vocally and gives a totally committed acted performance as well. She puts her whole body and face into her acting whilst her phrasing, legato and vocal expression are first rate; a consummate portrayal. Her fellow East European Maya Dashuk is lively and sparkling as the servant cum aspiring actress Lisette. Her singing and acting are good if not on the highest level of Vassileva. In the lead tenor role of Ruggero, Fabio Sartori has a pleasing tenor voice and matches his Magda for expressive phrasing…The orchestra play well under Albert Veronesi’s flexible baton.

Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, May 2009

PUCCINI, G.: Rondine (La) (Puccini Festival, 2007) (NTSC) 2.110266
PUCCINI, G.: Rondine (La) (La Fenice, 2008) (NTSC) 101329

Though first performed in 1917 this is a 2006 edition including some special orchestrations of the third 1921 version by Lorenzo Ferrero. It offers a fresh look at Act III in which Ruggero, on learning of Magda’s seamy earlier life as a courtesan in Paris, drops her like a brick. Its squalid ‘realism’ might have appealed to the liberated in the audience. It even goes so far as to have Lisette pregnant and delivered of her baby (presumably by Prunier) by Act III…Svetla Vassileva makes a sympathetic Magda. She is a bit unsteady in her opening aria  but her delivery is sweetened and her high register pianissimos are quite exquisite…Fabio Sartori is no Alagna or Villazon in the looks department but he has a most appealing tenor timbre. Maya Dashuk’s Lisette is nicely coquettish…Giannino’s Prunier and Giossi’s Rambaldo contribute gamely.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

I have never understood why a Puccini opera, overflowing with some of his most gorgeous melodies, has failed to find a place in the standard repertoire. The composer caused the original distraction by describing La rondine as an operetta, when it was, in fact, part of his series of ‘tragic heroine’ operas. As with Madama Butterfly, he began making revisions immediately after its première, but left them incomplete at the time of his death, the lack of a definitive performing version becoming a major drawback. Then in 1994 (not 2006 as erroneously stated in the booklet) a new hybrid version, which gathered the best of the three versions that existed, was staged in the UK by Opera North. In that version the story ends with Ruggero leaving the courtesan, Magda, who is deeply in love with him, when mistakenly believing she is returning to her wealthy former lover, Rambaldo. Both vocally and in its staging, Opera North’s production was such a perfect facsimile of everything that Puccini must have wanted, that it is unlikely it will ever be equalled let alone surpassed, and all who saw it were privileged. This version was used again in 2007 at the Puccini festival in Italy’s Torre del Lago, and boasts a strong cast, with the Bulgarian soprano, Svetla Vassileva, moving convincingly from Magda in the surroundings of Parisian wealth, to the desolate character left alone in the country at the close of the story. Her big first act aria, that is to run through the work, has its fair share of sugar and cream vocal quality, and she also visually ideal. Rivalling Pavarotti in stature, Fabio Sartori, has the vocal requirements for Ruggero, rising convincingly to the big arias with passion and security. The Russian mezzo Maya Dashuk is a satisfactory maid, Lisette, though it is Emanuele Giannino’s cameo role of Prunier that is the gem of the performance. Director, Lorenzo Amato, obviously believes Puccini needs his help, so we have a superfluous ballet running through the work; a make-believe piano for the on-stage accompaniment in the first act, and strobe-lighting in the 19th century Paris cafe scene for the second act. When he adds little to the last act, the production is beautiful. Loving an opera so deeply as I have done for decades, I find it difficult to be dispassionate, but much though I regret the definitive Opera North staging was never filmed, I still urge you to see this DVD of such a gorgeous opera.

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