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Patrick O'Connor
Gramophone, December 2009

A committed cast allows Puccini’s swallow to soar in this fine live version

Why did Puccini and his librettist Giuseppe Adami decide to rewrite the third act of La Rondine? Was it because of some moral indignation on the censors’ part? In the original version, the one we are familiar with, the heroine, Magda, confesses to her lover Ruggero that her past was not unblemished, she had been the mistress of the banker Rambaldo. Ruggero doesn’t care, he loves her and wants to marry her. In the 1920 revision, recorded here for the first time, Rarnbaldo turns up at the lovers’ house and begs Magda to return to him. Ruggero, realising the truth, turns on Magda, flinging money at her (like Alfredo in La traviata). He storms out and Magda is left without any alternative—back to Paris and the old life. Perhaps this is more realistic—who can say?

Despite several recent high-profile productions, La Rondine remains the least-known of Puccini’s mature operas. This must be in part because the tenor role is somewhat ungrateful, despite the addition of the aria “Parigi! E la citra dei desideri”, also composed for this 1920 revision but now regularly inserted into the “standard” 1917 edition.

This live performance has plenty of energy…As Magda, Svetla Vassileva starts a little uncertainly—it’s hard on the soprano to have to sing the most famous aria “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” only five or six minutes after the curtain rises. However, as the evening progresses she rises to the challenge, and brings a considerable amount of feeling to the anguish of the final scene. Fabio Sartori too grows stronger as the drama progresses. The secondary couple, Emanuele Giannino as Prunier and Maya Dashuk as Lisette, make a convincing pair of quarrelsome lovers. The long-suffering Rarnbaldo—Marzio Giossi—gets his little aria in Act 3. As always the big ensemble in the dance-hall scene in Act 2 goes with a terrific swing, Alberto Veronesi leading tile Puccini Festival Orchestra with obvious relish. Anyone with a keen interest in Puccini’s work will want to hear this.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2009

You will read of my exasperation as to the neglect of La rondine, the most beautiful of all Puccini operas, when I reviewed the DVD version in my April column. There I gave a brief survey of the opera’s background that has in some way contributed to its failure in finding a place in the standard repertoire, the blame in some respects being Puccini’s indecision and the lack of a definitive score on his death. The present booklet sadly perpetuates the error that I pointed out in my DVD review with regards to its recent history and the provenance of the version we hear in this performance. The story, as set out here, ends with Ruggero leaving the courtesan, Magda, who is deeply in love with him, when he mistakenly believes she is returning to her wealthy former lover, Rambaldo. The performance comes from the stage of the Puccini festival held in 2007 at Italy’s Torre del Lago, and boasts a strong cast, with the Bulgarian soprano, Svetla Vassileva, giving a convincing Magda, though without the visual help she does sound rather lacking in sadness in the final scene. Her big first act aria, whose theme runs through the work, has all the creamy quality the role requires, and shorn of visuals, Fabio Sartori sounds a convincingly passionate lover, adding a sob to his voice still fashionable in Italy.The Russian mezzo, Maya Dashuk, makes a vivacious maid, Lisette, and I am greatly taken by Emanuele Giannino’s cameo role as Prunier. The lesser roles are more than satisfactory, but in a ‘live’ performance singers do move on and off microphones. I am now more acutely aware of the orchestral contribution than on the DVD, and the nicely paced conducting of Alberto Veronesi. His second act opening is vibrant, and had he made those razor-sharp changes of pulse, it would have been ideal. Reservations I have, but don’t let that stop you buying this inexpensive entry point to a gorgeous experience.

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