Monday, January 28, 2013

La Rondine: il cor non ha difesa

Silk and daydreams: La Rondine, Act I (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
I'd seen La Rondine when the Met's current production opened four years ago, but caught the last performance in this season's run for the sake of Kristine Opolais, Puccini's shimmering score, and contemplating its place in the anxious political and cultural upheavals of the early twentieth century (cf. this New York Times article.) Nicolas Joel's setting of the production in the 1920s makes the social constraints and social experimentation of the piece poignantly resonant. Kristine Opolais' unusual voice and compelling presence made Magda more interesting to me than I've found her in the past. That both Magda's and Lisette's attempts at changing their lot end in failure is still a tragedy, but there is a sense that in the attempts themselves, something has been achieved.
Look, we're transgressing gender and class boundaries in a public space! 
There were some balance problems between pit and stage in Act I, but matters improved after that. Ion Marin emphasized the bittersweet melancholy in the score without wallowing in it, and the light touches of humor or simple merriment were given their full value as well. Dwayne Croft, with smooth and incisive singing, brought depths to the role of Rambaldo: a hard, sophisticated man, this, with few illusions except perhaps regarding his own power. Anna Christy was vivacious and sympathetic as Lisette, singing securely and with more variation of tonal color than is the norm for soubrettes. As Prunier, Marius Brenciu wielded his bright, supple tenor expressively. I found him convincing as the self-conscious swain, slightly ridiculous but fundamentally inoffensive. Giuseppe Filianoti, while he gave an engaged performance as the naive Ruggero, was unfortunately not on his best vocal form, sounding strained at the top of his range. Kristine Opolais, meanwhile, held me fascinated. Her voice, with its chiaroscuro qualities and a cool, focused core, I found compelling, and her presence equally so. Opolais suggested throughout that Magda is not flitting thoughtlessly from one love to another, but rather searching for a way to live out her own identity, true to herself and honest with others. In the end, of course, she believes what she has been told too many times... but maybe, five years in this Magda's future, she'll see a Marlene Dietrich film and take heart.

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