January 26, 2013
La Rondine is often considered the red-headed step-child in Puccini's canon of operas. Part light operetta, part romantic opera, it doesn't have the hot-blooded melodrama associated with Puccini. There are no dramatic deaths, just a sad and wistful parting between two lovers who realize their time together can be no more.
It's nevertheless one of my very favorite operas. I find each melody to be absolutely beautiful, particularly the "swallow" theme and the final duet between Magda and Ruggero. The ending is in its own way as heartbreaking as anything in opera precisely because of its realism. Magda and Ruggero break up not in the "opera" way of dramatic swooning and death, but the way most lovers do in real life -- with tears and regret. The maturity and realism only adds to the opera's emotional impact.
This handsome Met production was originally mounted for the soon-to-be-divorced, then-married couple of Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna in 2008/2009. Angela Gheorghiu has since then become persona non-grata at the Met, so this revival features the young Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais, who can be seen in this stunning video of Rusalka. Opolais and Gheorghiu are very different singers. Gheorghiu's voice has more inherent glamour in it -- it's dark, smoky, sexy, with a melancholy tinge that makes her perfect for these "fallen women" roles. Opolais's voice is more edgy, with less warmth. It's a well-produced voice with a secure top but the timbre itself is not particularly memorable. She's not one of those singers who can make audiences swoon with just the sound of her voice (unlike say, Gheorghiu or Netrebko). "Chi bel sogno di doretta" was vocally secure but lacked the ideal float.
What made Opolais's Magda memorable was the sincerity of her portrayal. Gheorghiu's Magda (preserved on video) always had a hint of coy artificiality, like she didn't ever believe that her relationship with Ruggero was anything more than a fling. Opolais's Magda is a much more serious, straightforward woman, and she plays the drama straight -- Magda is really in love, and in the painful final scene she cradles her lover tenderly. With Gheorghiu you believed that she was really just eager to go back to Rambaldo's "protection" and diamonds, with Opolais you believed that Magda would never be the same again. I would love to see Opolais in a role with more inherent drama, as it's clear this is an intelligent singer and performer.
Giuseppe Filianoti certainly cut a handsome figure as Ruggero, and was a heartfelt and ardent lover, but his singing was sub-par. The voice is now tightened and constricted, and any high notes come out as cracked whelps. The pair of comic lovers, Anna Christy (Lisette) and Marius Brencu (Prunier) were pleasant if slightly vocally underpowered. Ion Marin led the Metropolitan Opera in a sensitive, if occasionally sluggish reading of the score.
The audience response to Opolais, by the way, was ecstatic. It's clear that in NY, a star has been born.