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OPERA REVIEW

'Rondine' is Puccini lite

The composer went breezy and small. L.A. Opera does too. We're left wishing for more.

June 09, 2008|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Puccini's "La Rondine," which Los Angeles Opera revived Saturday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, is a problem. Even the composer had second and third thoughts about it. He wrote one ending for the 1917 premiere in Monte Carlo but devised a different one for the first Palermo performance in 1920.

He was considering other changes, but the final published score reverted essentially to the first version.

The differences weren't minor, like his streamlining of "Madame Butterfly" after its 1904 Milan premiere fiasco. Imagine Butterfly killing Pinkerton rather than committing suicide or, even worse, killing their son, Trouble.

In "Rondine I," the heroine Magda (misspelled Madga in the program) nobly rejects her innocent young suitor, Ruggero, because she feels her previous life as a lavishly kept woman would discredit him and his family. Cynics have sneered that Magda realizes at this point that a life of less than Parisian opulence would not satisfy her.

In "Rondine II," Ruggero, who has been a wimp throughout much of the plot, learns the truth of her past from an anonymous letter. He spurns her, and Magda, feeling she no longer has a reason to live, walks into the ocean to drown.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, June 12, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 106 words Type of Material: Correction
'La Rondine': A review in the Monday Calendar section of Giacomo Puccini's "La Rondine" at Los Angeles Opera said David Pittsinger had reprised his role from the company's 2000 production as the heroine's rich lover, Rambaldo. William Parcher sang the role in 2000. Also, the review said that Ruggiero's repudiation of the heroine at the end of the opera came from the second version Puccini wrote, which was first performed in 1920. That ending came from a third version, published in 1920 but not performed until 1994. None of the versions concludes with the heroine committing suicide, an ending the review attributed to the second version.

Marta Domingo, who is married to L.A. Opera general director Placido Domingo, opted for "Rondine II" in her production, first seen here in 2000. The choice makes for a weepier ending but also tips the balance of what Puccini labeled a lyrical comedy, modeled on Viennese operetta and Strauss' "Rosenkavalier," into verismo-style tragedy.

In many ways, "La Rondine" was Puccini daring to write against himself, to discard many of his proven powers -- the big, surefire tunes, slam-bam endings and wrenching emotional conflicts.

In the pit, conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, making her company debut, adhered to Puccini's stripped-down stylistic intentions almost relentlessly. Textures were light and diaphanous. Tempos were fleet, although she did slow way down for the important sentimental moments, such as the memorable tune "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" (Who can interpret Doretta's lovely dream?), which was also used in the film "A Room With a View." Musical lines sounded clipped and broken.

But for all his efforts to write lightly, Puccini still came up with big signature moments, such as the terrific second act paean to love, which begins as Ruggero's solo, becomes a quartet and ends with the whole chorus joining in. Here, Wilson's holding-back approach let the composer down.

Ruggero was sung by Marcus Haddock, who sounded even more effortful than he did in 2000. He still had the high notes, but they were forced. Much of the sheen of the voice has gone. But he did a credible job impersonating a young innocent from the country.

Patricia Racette, who made her company debut as Butterfly in 2006, was a rich, dark-toned and complex Magda and came most into her own in the tragic finale. Amanda Squitieri, in her company debut as Lisette, Magda's maid, may have a darker voice than expected for such a soubrette role, but she sang with appealing perkiness. Greg Fedderly again delighted as her lover, the pompous poet Prunier, singing with ease and sense of style.

David Pittsinger, reprising his 2000 role as Magda's rich lover, Rambaldo, was vocally poised and powerful. His acting was persuasive, even if he had to follow Domingo's out-of-character direction for striking Magda after she rejects him in the second act. On the other hand, the director's idea of having him order a servant to keep an eye on Magda explained how he knew where to find her later and showed the gilded cage in which he kept her.

The chorus was kept down by Wilson, and much of the opera didn't cross the front of the stage. "La Rondine" is not "Tosca," but it's bigger than it sounded opening night.

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chris.pasles@latimes.com

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'La Rondine'

Where: Los Angeles Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 2 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. June 19; 2 p.m. June 22; 7:30 p.m. June 25 and 28

Price: $20 to $238

Contact: (213) 972-8001 or www.laopera.com

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