La Rondine

ACT I

Magda’s penthouse overlooking the Paris Casino on The Las Vegas Strip, where she lives as the mistress of the wealthy Rambaldo. This evening he is playing cards with three high-rollers who also expect to “hook-up” with show-girl friends of Prunier, lover of Magda’s personal assistant, Lisette. As introductions are made, Prunier declares that romantic love is back in fashion. No one except Magda takes him seriously. When Prunier begins to sing an unfinished ballad he has written about a girl who rejects love, Magda is inspired to help him finish the song, making up a second verse that tells how the girl falls in love with a student. She thinks about her own, more innocent past and recalls an affair with a young man whom she might have loved if things had worked out differently. Rambaldo scoffs that he knows what love really means and gives Magda a diamond bracelet, which she accepts without changing her opinion that love has nothing to do wealth. Prunier offers to read Magda’s palm and predicts that her life will return to one of romance and happiness, just as la rondine, (the swallow) returns from an arduous journey to her safe haven. Rambaldo meets with a visitor, Ruggero, the son of a friend from the country, who is new to the city and wants to know where to spend the evening. Magda overhears her friends recommend Bullier’s, at the Paris Casino; Ruggero leaves to go there. Lisette, flirting with Prunier, tells him that it is her night off and the two follow Ruggero. As the guests depart, Magda decides to remain at home, then changes her mind. She dresses as a student and leaves, confident that no one will recognize her, and ready for an adventure at the Casino.

 

ACT II

The casino is alive with a crowd of high rollers, tourists, and students on spring break,  Ruggero sits alone at a table. When Magda enters, several young men approach her, but she says she already has a date and joins Ruggero. He doesn’t recognize her. She introduces herself as Paulette. When she teases him about his probable love affairs, he replies that should he ever love a woman, it would be forever. While they talk and dance, they both realize that they have fallen in love with each other. Prunier and Lisette arrive. She is startled by the sight of Magda, but Prunier, understanding the situation, convinces her that it is someone else with a chance resemblance. Suddenly Rambaldo appears, and Prunier asks Lisette to keep Ruggero out of sight. Rambaldo demands an explanation from Magda for her escapade. She replies that she has found true love and is going to leave him. Rambaldo departs, expressing hope that she will not regret her decision.  Ruggero returns and Magda leaves with him to start a new life.

 

ACT III

Magda and Ruggero have been living in a beach house at San Juan Capistrano, California, (where coincidentally the swallows regularly return), but their money is running out. Ruggero says he has written to his mother for her consent to their marriage and paints an idyllic picture of his family’s home in the country. Madga is dismayed that her lover doesn’t know anything of her past. Prunier and Lisette arrive, quarreling: he had tried to make her a singer but her debut was a disaster. Magda tells Lisette she would be glad to take her into service once more. Prunier, who can’t imagine Magda continuing her fantasy life, delivers a message from Rambaldo: he is ready to welcome her back on any terms. Prunier leaves as Ruggero returns with a message from his mother, who is delighted that her son has found a virtuous bride who will be worthy of his children. Unable to keep silent any longer, Magda tells a stunned Ruggero of her background as a prostitute and that she cannot be his wife. He protests and begs Magda not to leave him. He insists he loves her anyway, but she says she will not ruin his future. Heartbroken, Magda leaves the devastated Ruggero behind as she turns away to go back to her old life.

 

MORE OF LA RONDINE TO "SWALLOW".......BY ED HENSON

La rondine (The Swallow) is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Giuseppe, based on a earlier libretto by Alfred Maria Wilner and Heinz Reichert. It was first performed at the Grand Theatre de Monte Carlo in Monte Carlo on 27 March 1917. The opera is the story Magda de Civry, a courtesan, who has always dreamed of romance. As a young girl, she was swept off her feet one evening by a man who promised her everything, and she ran away from a safe, respectable life in the name of love. After living for years in Paris, Magda still dreams of feeling like that young girl again. In the disguised character of the graceful and reserved Paulette, she finds true love with a young man and plans to elope with him. Ultimately, she finds the excitement of the romance cannot sustain her.

She tells the young man the truth about her. Like the swallow that leaves for a short time, she wants only to return to her home in Paris. The opera contains the famous aria “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” (Doretta’s beautiful dream) which is a favorite recital and solo performance aria.

In autumn 1913, the directors of Vienna’s Carltheater commissioned Puccini to compose a Viennese style operetta. After confirming that it could take the form of a comic opera with no spoken dialogue in the style of Der Rosenkavailer, “only more entertaining and more organic”, he agreed. The work proceeded for two years, sometimes intensely, sometimes with great difficulty, and was finished in spring 1916. The originally intended Viennese première was impeded by the outbreak of World War 1 and the entrance of Italy in the Alliance against Austria-Hungrary, hence it premièred at the Grand Theater de Monte Carlo on 27 March 1917. Interestingly, Puccini’s long term music publisher, the firm of Giulio Ricordi, had declined the score of the opera – the son Tito was then in charge and he described the opera as “bad Lehar”. It was taken up by their rival, Lorenzo Sonzogno, who arranged the first performance in neutral Monaco.

La rondine was initially conceived as an operetta, but Puccini eliminated spoken dialogue, rendering the work closer in form to an opera. At the premiere, the initial reception by the public and press was warm. However, despite the artistic value of the score, La rondine has been one of Puccini’s less successful works; “In box office terms, [it] was the poor cousin to the other great hits.” Puccini reworked the opera focusing primarily on the final act . This second version premiered in 1920. He was working on a third revision, again focusing on the final act but it remained unfinished at his death. This third revision was finally completed in authentic Puccinian style by the Italian composer Lorenzo Ferrero at the request of Tearto Regional de Torino and subsequently performed there on 22 March dern

reviewer described La rondine as “a continuous fabric of lilting waltz tunes, catchy pop-styled melodies, and nostalgic love music,” while characterizing the plot as recycling characters and incidents from works like ‘La traviata‘ and ‘Die Fledermaus’.”

[On a personal note, I had the privilege to attend the USA premiere of the Third Revision of La rondine in 1998 at the Washington National Opera. Ainhoa Arteta sang the lead role under the direction of Placido Domingo. This was a Marta Domingo production increasing the tragedy by having Magda commit suicide by downing instead of returning to Paris. The performance was “electric” and the closing scene was the most spectacular performance/staging I have ever seen. It is a shame that La rondine is not performed more often.]

Background

Giacomo Puccini (22 December 1858 – 29 November 1924) was an Italian composer known primarily for his opera. Regarded as the greatest and most successful proponent of Italian opera after Verdi, he was descended from a long line of composers, stemming from the late-Baroque era. Though his early work was firmly rooted in traditional late-19th-century Romatic Italian opera he later developed his work in the realistic verismo style, of which he became one of the leading exponents.

Puccini was born Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini in Lucca, Italy, in 1858. He was the sixth of nine children of Michele Puccini (1813–1864) and Albina Magi (1830–1884). The Puccini family was established in Lucca as a local musical dynasty by Puccini’s great-great- grandfather – also named Giacomo (1712–1781). This first Giacomo Puccini was maestro di cappella of the Cathedrale di San Martino in Lucca. He was succeeded in this position by his son, Antonio Puccini, and then by Antonio’s son Domenico, and Domenico’s son and Giacomo’s father, Michele. Each of these men studied music at Bologna, and some took additional musical studies elsewhere. Each composed music for the church. In addition, Domenico composed several operas, and Michele composed one opera. Puccini’s father Michele enjoyed a reputation throughout northern Italy, and his funeral was an occasion of public mourning.

With the Puccini family having occupied the position of maestro di cappella for 124 years (1740–1864) by the time of Michele’s death, it was anticipated that Michele’s son Giacomo would occupy that position as well when he was old enough. However, when Michele Puccini died in 1864, his son Giacomo was only six years old, and thus not capable of taking over his father’s job. As a child, he nevertheless participated in the musical life of the Cattedrale di San Martino, as a member of the boys’ choir and later as a substitute organist.

Puccini was given a general education at the seminary of San Michele in Lucca, and then at the seminary of the cathedral. One of Puccini’s uncles, Fortunato Magi, supervised his musical education. Puccini got a diploma from the Pacini School of Music in Lucca in 1880, having studied there with his uncle Fortunato, and later with Carlo Angeloni. A grant from Queen Margherita, and assistance from another uncle, Nicholas Cerù, provided the funds necessary for Puccini to continue his studies at the Milan Conservatory here he studied composition. Puccini studied at the conservatory for three years, sharing a room with Pietro Mascagni. In 1880, at the age of 21, Puccini composed his Mass, which marks the culmination of his family’s long association with church music in his native Lucca.

Puccini wrote an orchestral piece called the Capriccio sinfonico as a thesis composition for the Milan Conservatory. Puccini’s teachers Ponchielli and Bazzini were impressed by the work, and it was performed at a student concert at the conservatory on 14 July 1883. Puccini’s work was favorably reviewed in the Milanese publication La Perseverance and thus Puccini began to build a reputation as a young composer of promise in Milanese music circles. He wore an opera Le Villa sponsored by the Sozogno music publishing company. Although it did not win, Le Villi was later staged at the Teatro Dal Verme, premiering on 31 May 1884. G. Ricordi & Co. music publishers assisted with the premier by printing the libretto without charge. The performance was enough of a success that Ricordi purchased the opera. The work was rarely preformed.

After Puccini had eloped with his former piano student, the married Elvira Gemignani, and Ricordi’s associates were willing to turn a blind eye to his lifestyle as long as he was successful. When his second opera, Edgar, failed, they suggested to Giullo Ricordi (head of G. Ricordi & Co. music publishers) that he should drop Puccini, but Ricordi said that he would stay with him and continued his allowance until his next opera.

After two unsuccessful operas, for his third opera, Manon Lescaut, Puccini

announced that he would write his own libretto so that “no fool of a librettist” could spoil it. This opera was a success and is still preformed regularly today. This was followed in order by La Boheme (1896), Tosca (1900), and Madama Butterfly (1904) sealing his position as one of the greatest opera composers of all time.

Puccini, a chain smoker, began to complain of chronic sore throats towards the end of 1923. A diagnosis of throat cancer led his doctors to recommend a new and experimental radiation therapy treatment, which was being offered in Brussels.

Puccini died in Brussels on 29 November 1924, aged 65, from complications after the treatment; uncontrolled bleeding led to a heart attack the day after surgery. He was buried in Milan, in Toscanini’s family tomb, but that was always intended as a temporary measure. In 1926 his son arranged for the transfer of his father’s remains to a specially created chapel inside the Puccini villa at Torre del Lago.

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