By Lynne Gray, PhD
Wednesday, April 15
Puccini’s La Rondine ~ 1Hr and 54Mins
Starring Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, Lisette Oropesa, Marius Brenciu and Samuel Ramey; conducted by Marco Armiliato. From January 10, 2009.
Puccini’s beautiful score illuminates the plight of Magda (the “swallow” of the title) – a (lavishly) kept woman by the wealthy banker, Rambaldo. Magda unexpectedly finds love with the handsome young Ruggero, but in the end, their idyllic life comes to an abrupt and premature end as she is haunted by the fear that her checkered past will ruin his future (think Traviata but without the consumption). Real-life couple (at that time!) Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna portray Puccini’s star-crossed lovers. Ezio Frigerio’s elegant and sophisticated art deco sets add just the perfect dazzling touch of Gustave Klimt inspired artwork to the production.
In 1913, Puccini was commissioned to write a Viennese-style operetta and after agreeing that it could be more in the style of a comic opera – which he had not previously tried – he consented. The idea of writing a lighter romantic opera, something with the musical richness of R. Strauss’s “Rosenkavalier” or even a more serious treatment of J. Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus, “but without any spoken dialog appealed to Puccini at that point in his career.
Paris, the 1920s. The wealthy Rambaldo and his mistress, Magda (a modern, although vulnerable, young woman who harbors fantasies of romantic love), are entertaining theatrical and literary friends. Prunier, a poet – and the lover of Magda’s maid, Lisette – declares that romantic love is once again in fashion. No one except Magda takes him seriously. In a foreshadowing of what is to come, Prunier offers to read Magda’s palm and predicts that she will go south in pursuit of romance and happiness, just like “la rondine,” the swallow (but we are certainly meant to remember that the swallow always returns to its nest). In the famous “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta,” Prunier begins and Magda finishes the story of a girl who rejects the love of a king and falls for a student instead.
Ruggero, the earnest and devoted son of a respectable family in southern France, appears with a letter of introduction for Rambaldo from his father. He asks for a recommendation on the best place to spend an evening since this is his first time in Paris. After some discussion, Lisette recommends Bullier’s and Ruggero leaves, following her advice. Meanwhile, on a whim, Magda decides to disguise herself as a shop girl and go to Bullier’s as well, while Lisette, telling Prunier it is her night off, borrows her mistress’s clothes and they set off for Bullier’s too!
At the nightclub, we find Magda joining the unsuspecting Ruggero (who does not recognize her) and then Lisette and Prunier – who do, but don’t let on – sitting down with the couple as well. A romantic evening ensues until Rambaldo arrives demanding (in private) an explanation from Magda. She tells him she has found true love and is leaving with Ruggero. Rambaldo simply expresses his hope that she does not regret her decision.
I doubt I need to describe for you the consequences of a lavish love life on the Riviera, especially after the still naïve Ruggero writes to his mother for financial help and permission to marry. Prunier and Lisette turn up arguing – Lisette would like her job back and Prunier delivers a secret message from Rambaldo that he would welcome Magda back.
The dramatic and tearful truth-telling and departure – leaving a devastated Ruggero – are some of Puccini’s most beautiful moments….
Do save some Kleenex for the rest of the week, however — you’ll need it — Butterfly and Adriana Lecouvreur are coming up.
Thursday, April 16
Rossini’s Le Comte Ory ~ 2Hrs and 23Mins
Starring Diana Damrau, Joyce DiDonato, and Juan Diego Flórez, conducted by Maurizio Benini. From April 9, 2011.
Rossini’s final comic opera, with an absolutely wonderful cast of opera’s brightest bel canto stars in a Bartlett Sher production, is difficult to top. Juan Diego Flórez is Count Ory, a handsome rogue who finds women—all women—irresistible. Diana Damrau sings the (mostly) virtuous Countess Adèle, and Joyce DiDonato is Isolier, the count’s page, who also happens to be in love with the countess. Jokes, misunderstandings, and gender-bending disguises—knights dressed as nuns for example— abound in this most entertaining tale of deception and seduction staged at the Met as an opera within an opera.
Around 1200 in France, the Count of Formoutiers and most of his men have gone off to the Holy Land to fight in the Crusades. The women who are left behind have vowed to live like widows, but this has left Formoutiers’ unmarried sister, Adèle, on her own and quite miserable.
The young Count Ory, who is trying his best to figure out ways to win her favor, decides to take advantage of the situation by disguising himself as a hermit and taking up residence just outside her castle. With the help of his accomplice Raimbaud the women are convinced to accept the hermit as an ascetic and a seer. They all, therefore, seek his advice and tell him their most guarded secrets – including Adèle.
Serious complications arise when Ory’s page, Isolier, not recognizing his master, also seeks the hermit’s advise and confides that he loves Adèle and has a plan to get into the castle. Isolier’s plan is to disguise himself as a pilgrim seeking refuge. Ory, very much impressed with the idea, decides to use it himself, but an additional wrinkle occurs when the “hermit” advises Adèle to have an affair to cure her misery and she confesses her feelings not for Ory, but for Isolier. By the end of the first act, the Count is unceremoniously unmasked by his own tutor who has been searching for his delinquent pupil and word comes that the Crusaders are due back in just two days.
The desperate Count resolves on another hurried attack. A storm brings sounds of screaming and cries for help from outside the castle. A group of female pilgrims (Ory and his men disguised as nuns) claim they are being pursued by Ory and are let into the castle. Pandemonium ensues when the “nuns” find the wine cellar – punctuated of course, by pious chanting whenever anyone approaches. Isolier tells the Countess that the Crusaders will return that very evening and they decide to play a trick on Ory. As Ory approaches the Countess’s bedroom, Isolier extinguishes the lights. The Countess’s voice tricks Ory into making his amorous advances to Isolier and the trio sings a very strange “love duet” under cover of the dark and stormy night.
Suddenly, trumpets are heard announcing the return of the Crusaders. Isolier reveals his identity to Ory as he and the Countess laugh together and Ory is forced to make a hasty escape.
Don’t miss the fun! This one is pure comedy.
1. Angela Gheorghiu and Marius Brenciu as Magda and Prunier in Puccini’s “La rondine” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… The Metropolitan Opera.
2. Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu as Ruggero and Magda in Puccini’s “La rondine” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… The Metropolitan Opera.
3. Lisette Oropesa and Marius Brenciu as Lisette and Prunier in Puccini’s “La rondine” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… The Metropolitan Opera.
4. Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu as Ruggero and Magda in Puccini’s “La rondine” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… The Metropolitan Opera.
5. Joyce DiDonato as Isolier, Diana Damrau as Adèle, and Juan Diego Flórez as Ory (in hermit’s disguise) in Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory” at the Met. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
6. Juan Diego Flórez as Ory (in nun’s disguise) in Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory” at the Met. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
7. Juan Diego Flórez as Ory and Diana Damrau as Adèle in Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory” at the Met. Credit… Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.
8. Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez and Joyce DiDonato as Adèle, Ory and Isolier in Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory” at the Met Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times