La Rondine in Graz

La Rondine is the least often performed of Puccini’s mature operas. This may be because of its lightness – almost in parts of an operetta character; or because, with its Traviata-like Third Act, it is not perceived to have a satisfactory ending. Also, with the exception of Magda the heroine, the characterisation is thin. Nevertheless it is full of melodic charm and, more importantly, has as its central theme a topic which has had increasing resonance since the work was written. Magda is caught between the forces of convention, which will have her confined to being a good wife and mother, and her desire for freedom and love unbounded by social and moral expectations. The renowned tenor Rolando Villazón who was responsible for the production in Graz, shared with the Deutsche Oper Berlin, stated his intentions at (too great a) length in a programme note. The dramatic weaknesses of the work, he claims, can be overcome by transposing the setting from the 1880s to the 1920s and by presenting it with a surrealist dimension, as if it takes place within Magda’s mind.

The transposition was effective but the surrealist elements were tame and inadequate, relying almost entirely on three masked figures who tediously accompanied Magda, making gestures as to what she should and should not do. A sharper focus was needed, perhaps with a feminist slant. It was not helped by positioning and movements on stage which were cluttered and clumsy. In short, the production lacked stagecraft.

This was a pity because there were some very positive aspects to the evening. Marco Comin in the pit demonstrated again his qualities in the Italian repertory. Particularly impressive was his ability to let the music breathe and to allow it to flow smoothly between parlando and solo aria. Sophia Brommer was excellent as Magda, tearing at the heartstrings as she vacillated between meek acceptance of her fate and robust defiance, and her rich soprano soared appropriately at the climaxes. Mickael Spaddacini was less convincing as her bourgeois lover: he was too brash and insufficiently nice for the role. He also sang too loudly, though this may have been the consequence of a vocal indisposition for which indulgence had been sought. In contrast Pavel Petrov and Tatyana Miyus caught exactly the right tone for the other pair of (superficial) lovers, singing with brightness and verve.