David Pittsinger and Patricia Racette
Photo : Robert Millard/LAO 2008
Not long ago, Lisa Hirsch
posed the question of how many Ring cycles the West Coast needs. I've got a better one. How many Rondine
s are necessary? The correct answer of course is none, but on the West Coast we have been inundated with, count them, two different outings in less than a year. If you want to know what is wrong about opera in America, friends, here lies exhibit A. Los Angeles Opera
is wrapping up it’s season with a revival
of this Puccini clunker starring Patricia Racette as Magda and Marcus Haddock as her young lover Ruggero. It is markedly different and much less successful than the San Francisco Opera production
of the work from last fall that had, if nothing else, the prodigious talents of Angela Gheorghiu at its center in a roaring 20s update.
The LAO incarnation of La Rondine
surfaced over a decade ago from the mind of Marta Domingo and was an aggressive effort to rehabilitate the opera’s deservedly lackluster reputation. Domingo borrowed from Puccini’s three different versions of this work, reconstructing arias here, newly orchestrating abandoned duets there. The intended effect was to make the piece meatier and Domingo did choose to go with the darker ending where Magda drowns herself in the sea. Unfortunately, all this labor is only half successful in that the opera still seems thin and only takes longer to get to the end. (The fact that LAO inserted two intermissions did not help this along at all.)
The star of the cast was Patricia Racette, whom I love dearly, but feel she was somewhat miscast here. Her voice has a strong, dark, and weighty quality that constantly strains against the bright and light qualities of Magda. Worse yet, the overly dowdy and matronly outfit she’s stuck in throughout Act II, when coupled with Rambaldo slapping her to the ground, creates the sense that you’re watching a Franz Léhar adaptation of Peter Grimes
. Haddock seemed rather strained at times, but the rest of the cast was fine in their relatively smaller roles with Greg Fedderly singing admirably as Prunier. The chorus was excellent and it sounds like Grant Gershon’s hard work at LAO is finally coming into full effect. Keri-Lynn Wilson led the orchestra to optimal effect.
In some ways this stodgy, if somewhat enjoyable, La Rondine
seems a fitting end to a rather stodgy, if somewhat enjoyable, season for LAO. There were few excellent moments. The Karita Mattila-starring Jenufa
and Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg
were the only two. The other major positive development is the ascendancy of music director James Conlon
who is taking over the mantle of musical leadership for the city that Esa-Pekka Salonen is about to vacate. He’s got energy and ideas and is clearly committed to a community spirit. However, while there were other memorable performances throughout the year, many of the productions seemed to sputter along at half-speed as if the company is saving itself for something bigger down the pike. I hope so. And I hope that includes the upcoming Ring cycle, which will kick off next year.
Labels: LA Opera 07/08