La rondine - Royal Opera House, 8 July 2013
There are plenty of things wrong with Covent Garden's La rondine, but, contrary to reports elsewhere, Angela Gheorghiu is not one of them. I've previously found her variously mannered, cold and inaudible. But last night she was simply captivating as Magda, a woman whose past mistakes threaten her future happiness. Close to home, perhaps.
Her silvery, birdlike sound is small, but it 'runs', as the Italians say. Even to my acoustic blackspot at the back of the balcony. After a tremulous start, she lent this delicate work the intimacy that Nicolas Joel's brash, cluttered production denies it. Sure, there were spoonfuls of the self-regarding diva posturing that prevents her being taken seriously as an actress. But that had melted away by the final act. Competing with monumental sets, costumey costumes and prancing extras, she managed to pull me in with the honesty and vulnerability of her performance. Her final renunciation of the man she loves was poignant beyond words. Brava Angela.
With its nothing-happens storyline and under-written characters, La rondine is so perversely anti-theatrical it leaves the rest of the basically competent cast little to do but hit the right notes. Edgaras Montvidas oafed amiably as the pseudo-poet Prunier, but Sabina Puértolas was shrill and charmless in the stereotyped pert-maid role of Lisette. Charles Castronovo disappointed. His former bland but pleasant enough lyric tenor has morphed into that covered baritonal thing that only Kaufmann can pull off. Just a few weeks ago he sang Tamino in his normal voice, so perhaps this is an experiment. He sounded pressured and artificial and - though I'm no expert - I have to wonder if he's damaging his voice.
Maybe Pappano could have found some drama in a patchy score which seems bent on avoiding it, but that was not Marco Armiliato's way. He recognises the fragility of the material and teased out the moments of beauty - wisps of delicate Debussian harmonies, lush Strauss-like sensuality. Then, unavoidably, come the half-baked Leonard Bernstein bits, and we're back down to earth again.
With basic material that flawed, La rondine is never going to be a wholly satisfying experience, but there's enough in this revival to make it an interesting one.
production photos (above) Catherine Ashmore/Royal Opera House
curtain call photos (below) intermezzo.typepad.com