RUGGERO Placido Domingo
LISETTE Mariana Nicolesco
PRUNIER Daniel Rendall
RAMBALDO Leo Nucci
YVETTE Lllian Watson
BIANCA Gillian Knight
Ambrosian Opera Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
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La rondine (The Swallow) is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Adami, based on a libretto by Alfred Maria Willner and Heinz Reichert. It was first performed at the Grand Théâtre de Monte Carlo (or the Théâtre du Casino) in Monte Carlo on 27 March 1917.
In autumn 1913, the directors of Vienna's Carltheater commissioned Puccini to compose a Viennese operetta. After confirming that it could take the form of a comic opera with no spoken dialogue in the style of Rosenkavalier, "only more entertaining and more organic," he agreed. For two years the work proceeded, sometimes intensely, sometimes with great difficulty, and in spring 1916 the opera was finished. The originally intended Viennese première was impeded by the outbreak of the World War I and the entrance of Italy in the Alliance against Austria-Hungary, hence the Opéra de Monte-Carlo was chosen to present it, with Gilda Dalla Rizza and Tito Schipa in the leading roles.
In Italy, Puccini offered the work to his editor Tito Ricordi who declined to buy it, thus Ricordi's rival, Lorenzo Sonzogno, obtained the right to give the first performance outside Austria and moved the première to neutral Monégasque territory. At the première in Monte-Carlo in 1917 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." There is no established final version of it, Puccini being dissatisfied, as often, with the result of his work; he revised it many times to the point of making three versions (1917, 1920, 1921), with two completely different endings, but died before clearly deciding on a final version. The second version was premiered at Teatro Massimo, Palermo in 1920, whereas the third was not heard until 1994 in Turin. Moreover, a fire at Casa Sonzogno archives caused by Allied bombing during the war destroyed parts of the score which had to be restored based on the surviving vocal-piano arrangements. The orchestration of the third version was finally completed in authentic Puccinian style by Italian composer Lorenzo Ferrero.
Place: Paris and Nice.
Time: Mid-19th century.
At a cocktail party in Magda's salon, Prunier declares that love is in the air. He begins to sing his latest song, which Magda completes (Aria: Chi il bel sogno di Doretta). She explains that as the kept woman of Rambaldo, she does not know true love; she recalls her youth, her aunt, and a young student she met and loved briefly (Aria: Ore dolci e divine). The young man, Ruggero, enters with an introduction to Rambaldo and asks where he may find the best place to spend an evening in Paris. All the guests agree that it is Bullier's and, after they leave, Prunier returns in secret to escort the maid Lisette to that cabaret. Later, on a whim, Magda disguises herself and also goes.
At Bullier's, everyone is singing and dancing. Magda meets Ruggero, and they dance and fall in love. Lisette recognizes Magda, but Prunier tells her she is mistaken. At the table, Lisette confesses to borrowing Magda's clothing and jewelry. Rambaldo enters, and Magda quietly has Prunier hide Ruggero. Rambaldo demands an explanation; she explains that she has found true love and wants to leave him for Ruggero. After Rambaldo leaves, Ruggero returns, and the couple confess their love.
Magda and Ruggero are living in a cottage by the sea. He has no idea how they will pay their mounting bills and he tells her that he has written to his parents for permission to marry her (Aria: Dimmi che vuoi seguirmi). Magda is deeply touched, but knows that she can never marry him because of her past. Prunier and Lisette arrive. She has had a disastrous and brief career as an actress, constantly criticised by Prunier; she begs for her job back, and Magda consents. Prunier delivers the message that Rambaldo wants her back, and tells her that she cannot maintain a life in the cottage. Ruggero returns with the letter permitting the marriage, but Magda finally tells him everything. Like a swallow, she flies back to Rambaldo, leaving Ruggero heart-broken.
As staged by companies such as the Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera (following research by and under the direction of stage director Marta Domingo), Ruggero receives a letter from his mother revealing the true name of "Paulette" (the name Magda has used during her time with the young man) and that she is the mistress of Rambaldo. He is angered and asks who she is and why she lied to him. She says that she thought he could save her from the life she was leading. He leaves her, and distraught she looks towards the sea saying she will fly there like a swallow. She walks into the sea to drown herself as the opera ends.