All you need to know about Puccini’s bittersweet love story — right here…
What is the story?
La rondine, which means ‘the swallow’, is Puccini’s take on the La traviata tale.
Magda is a courtesan in high society Paris and mistress of wealthy Rambaldo, but she dreams of true love. At a party, the poet Prunier reads her palm and predicts that, like the swallow, she will travel south looking for happiness. When a young stranger, Ruggero, arrives in the city, Magda decides to risk it all, disguising herself as a shop girl ‘Paulette’ and following him to the nightclub Bullier’s…
There, the pair fall in love, and decide to run away together to the south of France. Life is blissful, but Magda’s past casts a shadow. Ruggero does not know who she really is, and her reputation would cause his social disgrace… will the truth come out?
Who are the main characters?
Magda — a courtesan (soprano)
Ruggero — new in town (tenor)
Lisette — Magda’s maid (soprano)
Prunier — a poet and Lisette’s secret lover (tenor)
Rambaldo — Magda’s wealthy protector (i.e. sugar daddy!) (baritone)
The chorus also play the role of party guests, dancing girls and waiters at the crowded Bullier’s and more.
What is the music like?
Puccini’s music for La rondine is ravishing, full of lush orchestration and sweeping melodies that tug on the heart strings — especially the hard-hitting love duets between Magda and Ruggero at the end of the opera.
Initially conceived as an operetta (which ended up getting the full operatic treatment), it also features dance rhythms — dizzying Viennese waltzes, foxtrots, polkas and the tango, too!
Highlights include the dreamy Act II ensemble ‘Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso’, a full-cast toast to love, and Magda’s ‘Chi il bel sogno di Doretta’ in which she tells the story of a young girl who falls for a student — it’s one of Puccini’s best-known soprano arias.
What is this production like?
Director James Hurley’s staging is set in the 1930s, and costumes are gorgeously glamorous. The set (designed by Leslie Travers) consists of multi-storey frames and floating walls which allow scene changes to happen live in front of the audience, keeping up with the flow of Puccini’s music.
Larger-than-life scenic elements evoke the dream-like atmosphere of Magda’s heightened romantic adventure. The centre piece is a vast vase of flowers which dominates the action in Bullier’s, and when the lovers scrawl their names on the walls they join many thousands of others in a graffitied mural inspired by Paris’ love-lock bridge…
Who was the composer?
The opera was a commission from Vienna’s Carltheater in 1913, who wanted an operetta (a sub-genre of opera, usually comic, that contains dialogue and dance too). After confirming that it could instead take the form of a lighter opera, Puccini agreed.
However, it couldn’t premiere in Vienna because Italy and Austria had become enemies during WW1, so the opera opened in neutral Monte Carlo in 1917. It went down a treat – and yet today is much less often performed than Puccini’s ‘big hit’ operas, despite its bewitching music!
Did you know?
— After the premiere, perfectionist Puccini created three other versions of the opera (1917, 1920, 1921) with different endings – in one, Rambaldo comes to beg Magda to return to him, and Ruggero decides to leave Magda, rather than the other way around. However, Puccini died before deciding on a final version, so the one that is performed is usually the original!
— Magda’s Act I aria ‘Chi il bel sogno di Doretta’ is used as the soundtrack for the famous kiss scene in the 1985 film A Room with a View, starring Helena Bonham Carter and the late Julian Sands.
La rondine is sung in Italian with English titles and lasts approximately two hours.