La rondine has been missing from Naples for over thirty years. It is undeniably a weaker opera than Puccini’s more renowned masterpieces and often denigrated as a mixture of La traviata and La bohème. It was even dismissed by the composer's publisher as “bad Lehár”. Also, its hit tune “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” appears too early, only a few minutes after the beginning, and for the rest of the opera we wait in vain for another comparable number.

La rondine in concert at the Teatro San Carlo
© Luciano Romano

Composed in an attempt to enter the realm of operetta (and Lehár’s supremacy was absolute in those days), it narrates the story of the Parisian courtesan Magda, who vacillates between her elderly protector, Rambaldo, and her young lover, Ruggero. The poet Prunier tells her she is like a swallow (“rondine” in Italian) who will always returns to her nest and, eventually, not to dishonour Ruggero’s family with her sinful past (and not to give up her life of ease with Rambaldo) she lets her lover down and returns to her wealthy protector (her comfortable nest).

La rondine was actually conceived as an operetta, as it was commissioned by the Viennese Carltheater. It is still labelled as such, but it is not: Puccini was not at ease within a tradition that was not his own. He was not able to balance the seductive lightness of dance-like tunes of the waltz, tango, one-step and fox-trot, copiously poured into his score, and the melancholic seriousness of his compositional vein.

Ailyn Pérez
© Luciano Romano

In Naples, due to Covid-19 restrictions, La rondine was given in concert version, with some cuts that may have helped the production but not the understanding (and enjoyment) on the part of the audience. Ailyn Pérez, in the role of Magda, was much appreciated: her strong point is undoubtedly a solid high register, which the soprano knows how to float to ravishing effect, as in  "Chi il bel sogno" or in the finale. On the other hand, she was less effective in the conversational, operetta-like passages in the first act. Nonetheless, she was convincingly poignant and fit for the role. 

Michael Fabiano was a motivated Ruggero, with a nice gleaming tone, but with an inclination to push too markedly in the upper part of the texture. His voice sounded quite imposing and sure, only falling into some excess of rhetoric in the more emotional scenes. Lisette, her maid, was Ruth Iniesta, who displayed excellent phrasing and remarkable scenic confidence, especially in her duets with Prunier. With her rich timbre and her ease in the role, she conveyed humour and vivacity. Marco Ciaponi was a lyrical Prunier with a clear instrument, which he knew how to project well especially in the central and acute register. Affable and charming as he was, his performance was pleasant to hear.

Marco Ciaponi, Ruth Iniesta and Michael Fabiano
© Luciano Romano

Gezim Myshketa outlined a Rambaldo who was effective from the vocal point of view, and with the necessary amount of severity. Paolo Orecchia was a neat, extrovert Périchaud. The minor roles were all well sung: Gobin (Orlando Polidoro), Crébillon (Laurence Meikle), Bianca (Sara Rossini) and Suzy (Tonia Langella). A special mention deserves Miriam Artiaco as Yvette, for her beautiful timbre and well-projected voice.

Under Jurai Valchua's conducting, the orchestra produced a refined tone along with fluidity and depth. He led an inspired San Carlo Orchestra with intelligence and sensitivity.