There are essentially two views of Puccini. To his admirers he is one of the most beloved, most lyrical and at times moving composers of the modern period -- and successful beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings.
Detractors, however, have a different view. For all the dramatic (or melodramatic) force of his music and his undeniable lyric gift, finally he is enthralled by the mob. His lucrative populism is almost an embarrassment, and the joke he once told about his talent: "God touched me, but with his little finger," is perhaps, a truer saying than his fans care to admit.
What if Puccini were to write a drama that would seem to reconcile these two worlds? Something that was elegant, lyrical, witty and sophisticated. What if all the excess, all the playing to the crowd, the over the top endings with daggers and coughing in garrets or mustache twisting in Wild West saloons were all expunged?
What if Puccini, well, got real?
As final proof that people will berate you whatever you do, Puccini did just these things in La Rondine and it’s seen as his "problem opera" that is really an operetta. The idea was that the Italian master would take a page from the German master Richard Strauss.
He was called to Vienna, just before the outbreak of WWI. His task was nothing less than to recreate the stupendous success of Der Rosenkavalier. Ironically, the result is one of the most delicate, complicated and interesting works of opera -- closer to Capriccio, but almost thirty years before their was a Capriccio.
Puccini presents, La Rondine:
The story begins in a Paris drawing room at the salon of Magda de Civry. Friends are gathered, and as music is composed and played there is a discussion and dispute about the nature of romantic love. Can a courtesan recover the innocence of romantic love, and on parallel lines can a maid Lisette, become a chanteuse and artist under the tutelage of the poet who raised all these questions - Prunier?
Following this is an interplay of dream and reality and an incredible exchange of identities. In the atmosphere of café society, Magda and her maid make just such an exchange. In between are caught two men, Ramblando, the rich protector covetous of the alluring Magda, and the young Ruggero. Can La Rondine, (the Swallow), resist the ease of her illicit life and actually renounce it for youthful love and a middle class life of respectability?
The romantic answer is of course yes, and if not the introduction of some impossible impediment. Puccini chooses neither and plays the realist. See what you think as all of this spins wildly out of control to some of Puccini’s most ravishing music including the show stopping "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" (Doretta’s Beautiful Dream), a soprano favorite.
Tune in this Saturday for the Metropolitan Opera's presentation of La Rondine, here at noon on KPAC and KTXI where Kristine Opolais made "a spectacular Met debut" (New York Post).
As Magda, she "brought creamy sound, pliant phrasing and floating high notes" to the performance. "A lovely woman and an affectingly natural actress, she has a plush voice with a throbbing richness that lends a touch of poignancy to every phrase she sings (New York Times).
- Learn more about the Met online at: www.metoperafamily.org