Arts & Events

New: Puccini’s LA RONDINE Soars at Island City Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday March 18, 2019 - 05:00:00 PM

A late work by Puccini, La Rondine (The Swallow) is somehow perennially absent from the operatic stage. It was last seen locally in a 2007 San Francisco Opera production featuring Angela Georghiu as Magda, the kept woman who abandons her wealthy Parisian patron when she finds true love, only to discover she must give up her dreams. If the plot of Puccini’s La Rondine suggests affinities with Verdi’s La Traviata, the main difference is in the musical structure. Puccini has fashioned La Rondine as a Viennese-style operetta.  

Recently, Island City Opera presented four performances of La Rondine at Alameda’s Elks Lodge. I attended the Sunday, March 16 performance. With veteran conductor Jonathan Khuner at the helm of a 21-piece chamber orchestra, La Rondine soared on wings of fine music-making. Soprano Eileen Meredith was convincing in the role of Magda, and her many high C’s were mostly spot on. Meredith delivered a beautiful “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta,,” an aria that is often hailed as one of Puccini’s finest, which is no small praise! 

La Rondine boasts not one but two prominent tenor roles; and here Sergio Gonzalez was a stalwart Prunier, poet and confidant of Magda, while Alex Boyer was an ardent Ruggero, the young man who inflames Magda with his love. Bass Jason Sarten was an elegant Rambaldo, Magda’s wealthy sugar-daddy. Soprano Liz Russ almost stole the show with her portrayal of Lisette, Magda’s maid and confidante. As Lisette, Liz Russ was alternately saucy and submissive, a loyal servant but one who leads an alternative life when not working. Her romantic involvement with Prunier has its ups and downs, but a lively sex-life keeps them together 

. The Parisian café society milieu of La Rondine calls for many small roles; and here Katja Heuzeroth, Liesl McPherrin , and Christabel Nunoo stood out among the females, while Wayne Wong, Khris Sanchez, Robert Boyd, and Michael Belle held up the male contingent. A large chorus also was frequently heard. Stage Director Jane Erwin Hammett kept the action moving deftly, and she wisely brought the whirlwind movement to a standstill for the moments of high emotion. 

Act III was particularly effective. Magda has left Rambaldo to make her life with Ruggero, and they have taken up residence on the French Riviera near Nice. Ruggero confides to Magda that he has written to his parents telling them of his love for Magda and asking their consent to his marriage. This news both touches Magda and disturbs her, for she realizes that her sordid past as a courtesan (unknown to the naïve Ruggero) will make it impossible for her to marry Ruggero and be acceptable to his parents. In the end, she reluctantly informs Ruggero of this, and he is devastated. As Ruggero bursts into tears, Magda leaves accompanied by Lisette, and Magda is last heard singing a high A flat “Ah!” from offstage, as La Rondine comes to a close.