A couple of weeks ago I was asked to stand in for a small chorus role in my first opera chorus at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, it’s very exciting for me. Rehearsals had been going on since the beginning of January so I had catch up work to do. The lovely Kathryn Middleman, a fourth year vocal student and friend, helped me with some of the Italian pronunciation.
The opera is called La Rondine (The Swallow). I haven’t seen this opera yet on DVD or live, the music is by Giacomo Puccini. I immediately set about listening to the music and I’d like to get a copy of the opera to watch, I doubt it will be featured at a cinema in time for May, the music is just sumptuous.
The first performance of this opera was at the Casino Theatre in Monte Carlo on 27th March, 1917. The story seems to have lots of secret love affairs and is about romanticism and love. It’s set in glamorous 1920s Paris. An elegant courtesan Magda de Civry meets the young innocent Ruggero Lastouc, she is smitten, and begins to imagine the life they might live together. But can she forget her past and make her dream a reality?
My initial investigation into the story reveals that in act one Magda, a working girl who became the elegant mistress of her elderly protector Rambaldo, entertains her friends with a cocktail party at her home. She invites a poet called Prunier to sing a verse of his latest song and Magda sings her own ending to the song. A visitor arrives at Magda’s salon to see Rambaldo called Ruggero, it is his first visit to Paris and he asks where to find the best entertainment for his first evening, Magda’s maid Lisette recommends Bulliers.
In Act two Magda disguises herself as a working girl and goes to Bulliers for an evening of dancing. The bar is packed with students, artists all singing and dancing. Magda sits with Ruggero who doesn’t recognise her, she becomes smitten with him and dreams of building a life with him. The maid Lisette and Prunier the poet arrive, Lisette thinks she recognises Magda but she has signalled to Prunier not to reveal her so he persuades Lisette that she is mistaken. Prunier noticed that Rambaldo has entered Bulliers and implores Lisette to take Ruggero out of the room for a few minutes, which she does. Rambaldo implores Magda to leave with him but she declares her love for Ruggero and he leaves.
In Act three on the French Riviera Magda and Ruggero have been living together for several months. Ruggero tells Magda that he has written to his mother for her consent to his marriage to Magda. Magda becomes uneasy because she knows her previous life as a courtesan would make her unacceptable to his family. Prunier visits Magda and tells her that Rambaldo is happy to take her back on any terms. Magda at first refuses to listen. She confesses to Ruggero about her past and declares she can never be his wife. He implores her not to abandon him in a heart-breaking farewell.
Like a swallow, she flies back to Rambaldo and her old life, leaving Ruggero behind devastated.
One aspect of this opera that I look forward to is the dances in Act 2, La Rondine uses popular dances, and particularly the waltz and I love to waltz. A feature of the music is Puccini’s use of modern dance rhythms, such as the tango to denote the various characters.
La Rondine has been one of Puccini’s less successful works, however, as part of a 1958 celebration marking the centenary of Puccini’s birth the San Carlo Theatre in Naples, Italy staged a revival which was well received, with audiences and the critics deeming it was a success.
You can read more Musical Highlights here by The Metropolitan Opera to help students make sense of opera.
La Rondine runs at the RCS from May 10th to Thur May 15th ,2014. La Rondine hasn’t been performed or seen in the central belt of Scotland for many years. As Puccini’s homage to operaetta it represents him at his most delicate, lyrical and playful in portraying a tangled web of human relationships, deceit and misunderstanding. You can book tickets for the RCS production here.