Skip to main content

 Recording of the Week  Puccini's forgotten masterpiece - La Rondine

It seems strange that a mature masterpiece from one of the world’s most celebrated operatic composers could be largely unknown, but that is the opinion of soprano Angela Gheorghiu and tenor Roberto Alagna on Puccini’s La Rondine, whose 2009 production from the Metropolitan Opera is due to be released on DVD next Monday on EMI. I’ve been watching it myself this weekend and I have to say I tend to agree with them - it is full of fabulous music and dramatic tension and it is hard to understand why it was ignored for most of the twentieth century.

Angela Gheorghiu in La Rondine
Angela Gheorghiu in La Rondine

The opera had a difficult start. It was commissioned by Vienna’s Carltheater and the idea was for Puccini to write an operetta. Puccini instead agreed to write a comic opera in the style of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, only “more entertaining and more organic”. It is an unusual story, particularly for Puccini, with no great tragic ending, and no deaths, but it is still very dramatic and there is plenty of musical colouring to get you drawn into the emotions of the characters.

Puccini’s major publisher Ricordi had wanted the composer to write a national epic rather than what he considered “Viennese whipped cream” and as a result wanted nothing to do with the work. It turned out to be the only Puccini opera which Ricordi didn’t publish and the early reception is likely to have suffered from the lack of the publisher’s significant publicity machine behind it. Furthermore the outbreak of the First World War made a Viennese premiere impossible and the subsequent switch to Monte Carlo certainly didn’t help the opera receive a sympathetic response - the French press hammered it and the Italians didn’t like the fact that it was all happening outside Italy anyway.

After this poor start the opera quickly fell out of the standard repertoire, but thankfully over the past ten years or so it has started to make a comeback. Gheorghiu and Alagna’s studio recording in 1996 proved a launch pad and since then most of the world’s major opera houses have raised productions. One of the last to do this was the Metropolitan Opera in New York which gave its first staging for 70 years on New Year’s Eve 2009. The new DVD mentioned earlier was recorded 11 days later and it is hard to imagine a better version. Gheorghiu is at her sumptuous best and is undoubtedly the star of the show but the orchestra, under Marco Armiliato are also superb, and again I find myself praising Roberto Alagna, who like in his Don José from Carmen (which I talked about two weeks ago), in Ruggero finds a role which he performs both highly musically and utterly convincingly.

Much to recommend this then, and also at a really excellent price. I’ve put a short video trailer on the website to give you an idea.

Puccini: La Rondine

Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, Lisette Oropesa & Marius Brenciu, Orchestra & Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera, New York, Marco Armiliato

Available Format: DVD Video