Review of W. J. Henderson in the Sun
‘LA RONDINE’ IS PRESENTED HERE
Puccini Musical Play Given in Monte Carlo in 1917, Has New York Premiere
Once upon a time Andreas Dippel, who had been a Metropolitan tenor and afterward an impresario, became a comic opera manager and enlivened Broadway with “The Lilac Domino.” His grand opera past created in his mind the brilliant idea of persuading Puccini to write a comic opera with which the aforesaid Dippel would pale the glare of the Great White Way. The composer liked the idea and a contract was made with a publisher of Vienna where the work was to be produced. But the war made Italy and Austria foes and there were other troubles of a sordid kind.
The comic opera was eventually written, however, with a new libretto and was given in Monte Carlo in 1917. It was called “La Rondine” and rights acquired by the Metropolitan Opera Company through the sordid troubles referred to brought it to the Broadway temple in glorified state on Saturday afternoon. This chapter of incidents may serve to explain why it is neither grand opera nor the kind of comic opera familiar to this town, but just a vivacious high-class musical play mingling humor, farce, tender emotions and show in delectable proportions. It made a palpable hit with the matinee audience, a hit due partly to its own pleasing, if unimportant qualities, and still more to a performance replete with gayety, animation and gentle sentiment.
The heroine of the tale, Magda, is a Parisian lady of the evening provided with a luxurious dwelling by a middle-aged gentleman named Rambaldo. We meet her entertaining several friends in her salon. Prunier, a poet, tells the assembly that sentimental love has become fashionable. Magda alone takes the news seriously. She had a little affair of that sort once. Prunier tells her fortune and prophesizes that, like the swallow (La Rondine), she will leave her home, but will return to it.
Then comes Mr. Gigli, as a young man from the country, quite too innocent to know that he is among ladies with pasts. He has a letter of introduction to Rambaldo which accounts for his appearance in Magda’s salon. He desires to see Paris and Lisette. Magda’s spoiled, saucy maid, with whom Prunier is in love, tells him to go to the Bal Bullier. Magda began her long-past little affair there. She would like to try it again. She dresses herself as a grisette, goes to the ball and meets the bucolic Ruggiero. Grand Ballroom scene. Gorgeous spectacle, glittering lights, dancing choruses, ensembles, love duet. Departure of the ecstatic pair in the early dawn.
“Do you know what this woman did?” pointing at Camille, demanded Armand. “She sold everything to go and live with me in the country.” In Puccini’s opera Magda gave up Rambaldo, and all that he meant, in order to live on the Cote Azur in a hotel where Ruggero also is. Sentiment reigns; the air reeks with it; so does the music. Prunier and Lisette come to the lovers. The poet has tried to make a diseuse of his inamorata, but she won only hisses. She returns to her post as maid. Ruggero has written to his mother to get permission to marry Magda; but when he tells her she confesses that she is not worthy of the honor, and, bidding him a sad farewell, sets out to return, as Prunier had prophesied, to Paris, where Rambaldo is sitting pretty.
This stray blossom of Puccini’s fancy is likely to be blasted by misunderstanding. The work must be accepted for what it is and not damned for not being something else. It will not bear rough usage; it is slender and feminine. The score must not be scrutinized as if it were graven in the smoke of the midnight lamp. It is the afternoon off of a genius. The opera, regarded as an entertainment, and that is all it seeks to be, is spruce and amusing. The story has its charm, its winning sentiment, its light-hearted humor. The incidents are pictorial; the development sympathetic. The first act sparkles; it is the best of the three. It contains vivacious dialogue, set to animated arioso, and it has certain musical points. The song of the poet at the piano, “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta,” afterward taken up by Magda, and her narrative of her love dream, “Ora dolci e divine,” are melodious and have the composer’s familiar skill in the lyric language of the theater.
The superficial gayety of the Bal Bullier in the second act is reflected in the tenuous musical stream. There is no depth; it is limpid water rippling over pebbles. But it has the mood of the scene and a very direct method of projection across the footlights. There are no subtleties. There is a waltz which reappears in the third act to make a duet of reminiscence for Magda and Ruggero. This waltz will go the rounds. The phonograph will seize it; the radio will air it; the night clubs will do strange things with it. There is an ensemble developed from a quartet for the four principals, which begins with Ruggero’s words, “Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso.” The theme is almost plebeian, but the ensemble is assuredly “good theater.” It sounds, and it evoked a storm of applause.
The best page in the third act is the duet made of the waltz from the second. There is nothing else in the scene commanding discussion. The stage picture is engaging, especially if you have seen Nice and Mentone, not to speak of Monte Carlo. Then a certain nostalgia may support the frail music. But no one should take such a work too much to heart. The whole score is fragile and shallow. It might break down under cross-examination. There is not a distinguished page in the three acts. Yet “La Rondine” is a graceful trifle and occupies two hours and a half without strain upon the attention. When the distant convent bells chime through the orchestration of the last moments you may possibly feel that you might have done worse than be in the opera house. You have had cheerful entertainment.
The work owes a huge debt to its interpreters. Miss Bori as Magda achieved one of the triumphs of her career. If she had done nothing beyond her exit at the close of the first act, dancing and murmuring her ecstatic yearnings, she would have won her audience, but from the beginning to the end she delineated with irresistible charm, with sprightly gayety, with winsome tenderness the moods of the wayward, sorrowful wanderer. Her impersonation was composed with remarkable histrionic art. There was not a false note, no breaking out of the picture. And she sang her music not only with respect for the composer, but also with the communicative spell of a consummate artist.
Mr. Gigli had a rather dull role, that of a timid country boy thrust into a life incomprehensible to him. He played the part with discretion and sang the music as one would expect him to. Editha Fleischer had a congenial character in Lisette, the masquerading maid, a sort of Musetta with reverse English. She has not now to prove herself a delightful soubrette, and on Saturday she bubbled and foamed like champagne in the comedy scenes. Mr. Tokatyan’s Prunier was a little masterpiece. In pose, action, facial expression and vocal style the tenor was entirely successful in presenting a portrait of the strutting, boastful poet, who fell in love with the lady’s maid. He did a fine bit of light comedy acting and the audience doted on him.
Pavel Ludikar made a conspicuous and dignified figure of Rambaldo, and there were several minor parts commendably done. The chorus sang very well and the stage management was of the best. Vincente Belezza conducted, and to him must go the credit for a careful preparation of the musical interpretation. He got out of the score all that was in it. The audience undoubtedly enjoyed the opera. There were prolonged applause and many recalls.
Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times
PUCCINI OPERA HAS AMERICAN PREMIERE
Gay ‘La Rondine,’ lyric Comedy, Wins Marked Approval at the Metropolitan
AN AMUSING PERFORMANCE
Lucrezia Bori and Gigli in Leading Roles of Last Novelty of Season
The American premiere of Puccini's “La Rondine” yesterday afternoon in the Metropolitan Opera House was conspicuously a success. This does not imply, necessarily, that the score is a distinguished one or that it will last for a great many performances. The score is not distinguished, but it is gay and, of course, wrought with an expert hand. It is better music than the music of “Turandot” because there is not so wide a gap between the subject treated and the composer's accomplishment. It is much better than “Violanta” or “Madonna Imperia,” the two other lugubrious novelties of the present Metropolitan season.
The story of “La Rondine” is sentimental. It might have been movingly tragic in the hands of the composer of “La Traviata.” As it is, the beholder is not stirred, but sometimes he is amused. Neither his mind nor his emotions are taxed. If Puccini can do nothing but supply vocal and instrumental patter for operatic conversation, and interpolate here a waltz and there an ensemble number in the style of light opera, he can furnish a plausible entertainment that lasts something over two hours for the matinee idolater or the tired business man.
Probably, if copyright privileges permit it, various and sundry songs and dance “numbers” from “La Rondine” will be jazzed, saxophoned, or otherwise purveyed to our interested public. At the very best this piece, which is of entirely superficial and ephemeral character, will fill its place in the scheme of public entertainment for a day, and then, with much of the rest of the late Puccini, be forgotten. But at least Puccini laid aside the tragic mask—for which, in the years of his creative decline he was less and less fitted—when he composed “Rondine,” he has caught cleverly the style of the operetta.
For “La Rondine” is not an opera “seria” or “buffa.” It is a little more substantial in its facture and also its libretto than a musical comedy, but belongs decidedly to a genre in which composers of much less reputation than Puccini have ventured, with perhaps more lasting success. And, like most composers who made their rank and reputation in a more important field, Puccini was not at first inclined to lend an ear to those who suggested a venture in the lucrative lighter genre.
But he was persuaded in 1911 by a Viennese publisher to attempt this. An unsatisfactory libretto delayed the completion of his work. Then the war intervened. Puccini was obliged to sever his connection with the Viennese publisher, who became automatically an enemy of Italy. Thereafter, in accord with an edict by the Government, the Italian firm of Sonzogno accepted the work still to be composed. Puccini was supplied with a new libretto by Adami. The first performance of “La Rondine” took place at Monte Carlo, March 27, 1917. Then it was given in different Italian cities and in South America. Vienna, for which the operetta was created, did not hear it until 1919. In the Austrian capital “La Rondine” was a failure. It would have made its way slowly, in any event, from opera house to opera house, because of a cast which calls for two first tenors and two first sopranos. Other reasons less practical but more determinative in their nature for “La Rondine's” slow acceptance by the public may be found in its thin, pretty and conventional score.
What the audience liked yesterday was plain to see. In the first place, it liked a brilliant and amusing performance. In the second, it had not time to weary of the paucity of the music, or a book designed for immediate popular appeal. Then there are scenes of Paris of the Second Empire, including the Bal Bullier, of which the reputation was so picturesque years ago and is so hopelessly dull and prosaic today. There is not only comedy here but there is sufficient of the erotic element—lacking in any great degree in Puccini's other comedy, “Gianni Schicchi”—to appeal to the audience. As Mr. Gatti-Casazza remarked to us recently, patrons of an opera house would rather weep than laugh at an opera, and if the opera is to be comedy there must be a sufficiency of the “love interest.” Here is a little of everything!
The tale is simple. The scene is Paris of the period already mentioned. The opera opens with the spectacle of the “salon” of Magda, the courtesan. Her patron is the elderly Rambaldo, Her circle is that of Bohemians, artists, men of letters. Prunier, a minor poet, reads from a paper that sentimental love is now the rage in Paris, Magda recalls, and narrates to her friends, male and female, the short, ideal and romantic episode of her life when as a young grisette she went to the Bal Bullier, danced and exchanged vows with a young Bohemian, who made love grandiloquently and, no less grandiloquently, tipped the waiter 20 sous. Prunier sings a sentimental song, the first popularly written “number” of the opera, in praise of sentimental love, and strikes an attitude. He reads Magda's palm. On a day to come she will leave her home like the swallow, but, again like the swallow, she will return.
The poet, Ruggero, calls to pay his respects to Rambaldo. He is advised to spend his first night in Paris at the Bal Bullier. Magda reads the notice of the event, and it stirs her memories. She costumes herself, when the guests have gone, as a grisette. In the meantime Prunier has taken Magda's maid, Lisette, to the ball, and Lisette has borrowed the clothes or her mistress for the occasion.
Mistress attired as maid, and maid attired as mistress, meet at the dance. Before they confront each other Magda has discovered Ruggero dreaming at a table. The two make love. Magda, whose past is of course unknown to Ruggero, asks him to tip the waiter 20 sous. Prunier and Lisette appear, Lisette much bewildered at the resemblance of the grisette to her mistress. Rambaldo, watching from the balcony, approaches. Magda confesses her new found passion and intent to go away with Ruggero.
The third act takes place in a garden that overlooks the Côte d'Azur. Ruggero tells Magda that he has written his mother, asking her permission to marry. He leaves to go to the post. The pair of feather brains, Prunier and the maid Lisette, come on the scene. They have tired of each other, and the poet is displeased because of the fiasco of an appearance that he had arranged for Lisette at the local theatre. The two make way for the returning Ruggero, who reads to Magda his mother's consent and blessing on the proposed marriage. Magda realized that she must tell the truth and does so. Lisette, doffing her borrowed finery, offers to go back into Magda's service. Ruggero is broken-hearted. The “swallow” returns to her old nest, her old life in Paris.
There is little that need be said of the music. In fact the appropriate manner to discuss it would be that of the reporter of musical comedy: to mention the “song hits” and the individual interpretations that pleased. The principal “song hits,” then, are Prunier's waltz song of the first act, and the quartet of the second act in the ball scene, which brought down the house, and finally the more operatic scenes between Ruggero and Magda in the last act. Connecting these principal points is music that savors partly of the rhythms and the inflections—though these are not slavishly imitated, as they are by Strauss in “Der Rosenkavalier”—of the Viennese waltz; some other dance music in two-four rhythms, savoring occasionally of jazz; the quick give and take of orchestral commentary and dialogue on the stage, and occasional incidental passages of ensemble. The handling of this material is expert and felicitous on the part of the composer.
In the last act he does not strain the situation, and happily avoids the futile bombast which characterizes passages of attemptedly dramatic or tragic utterance in the last act, for example, of “Butterfly.” Of course “La Rondine” is no “Butterfly.” The comparison is made only to emphasize the salient and fortunate fact that Puccini is here writing music that, so to speak, is within his stylistic and emotional means. And Mr. Gigli gave real meaning to the gratifying simple confession by Ruggero of his love and his desire to make Magda wife and mother.
The performance of a deceptively light-sounding score – a score of very, very real difficulty, especially in matters of ensemble, was one of the most brilliant and spirited that we have seen recently at the Metropolitan. Not only the audience was amused. The singers were amused also. They had fun on the stage. Miss Bori gave her part a vitality, a personality that it hardly possessed, by the charm, the grace, the piquancy of her impersonation. A perfectly adequate foil to her Magda was Miss Fleischer's rather lively, gawky, impudent Lisette—Lisette, who was worse than pert in her behavior toward Magda's guests of the first act, and who contrived to inject an undertone of a certain homely tenderness when she threw away her gloves and put on her apron at the last, once more to serve, perhaps more faithfully and comprehendingly than before, her mistress.
But most amusing was Mr. Tokatyan's Prunier. He was the poet of post-Revolutionary days in Paris from crown to toe, from collar to core. His driveling song at the piano, his sighs, his ogling of the ladies, his flinging of his hair, his cheap vanities and fatuous complacencies, the hand in the breast, the rapturous homage to "le printemps"—this was a figure to remember. Singing? When there was singing to be done Mr. Tokatyan took advantage of the occasion.
Mr. Gigli made his wonted impression in passage of song. He was the one figure not in the picture, not a romantic youth, glamorously in love. No! It cannot be claimed that Mr. Gigli communicated illusion in this aspect, but his singing captured the audience. We have heard him sing with finer art. It mattered not, and Puccini, of course, gay or grave, has never neglected to supply the sob and the high note over stressful harmonies in the orchestra for his tenor. Mr. Ludikar completed the picture, indeed was one of its most indispensable elements, in the minor part of Rambaldo. He made that elderly patron neither stiff nor pompous nor ridiculous.
On the contrary, there was dignity and feeling in Rambaldo's leave-taking of Magda and wish that she might find the happiness that had not been hers. Mr. Bellezza did excellently with the orchestral score, and held the performance well together. The opera, in short, received a performance that carried it over. We would not like to see this piece done in a sluggish or amateurish fashion. We do not know that we would like to hear it very much under any circumstance. But the Metropolitan provided an afternoon's amusement—which, after all, does not always occur, even in the best regulated lyric theatres.
Review of Pitts Sanborn in The New York Telegram
Once More the First Time of a Puccini Lyric Drama
“La Rondine” is Hailed by a Pleased Audience at the Metropolitan
It would be infinitely pleasant to record the successful introduction at the Metropolitan Opera of an opera by Handel, sumptuously produced, or the worthy revival of Gluck’s “Orfeo” or Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni,” rather than to dilate upon the first performance in America last Saturday afternoon, within those holy halls, of Puccini’s “La Rondine” (The Swallow).
But since “La Rondine” was the presentation de facto, and a huge audience seemed to like it immensely, why, let us stick dutifully to that modestly ingratiating text!
Until Gatti-Casazza’s plans for the present season were revealed a year or so ago few contingencies might have seemed less likely than the local emergence of an opera which long has been set down among Puccini’s failures.
Monte Carlo, where first “La Rondine” saw the light of the stage in April, 1917, declined to keep it on, and so have other towns aesthetically less graced than that city of guileful play. But after the lapse of time we at last have it here, and apparently it has come to stay as long as Miss Bori and Mr. Gigli will assume for us its leading roles.
Now it remained for the Metropolitan to produce Puccini’s “Edgar,” the second in point of time among his operas. The first, “Le Villi,” figured as one of the earliest novelties of Mr. Gatti-Casazza’s consulship. It is scarcely conceivable that “Edgar” should not be better stuff.
But even without “Edgar” Puccini enjoys an eminence that neither of his habitual rivals for first place in number of Metropolitan performances can boast. All but one of his operas have been presented there, whereas Wagner’s “Die Feen” and “Das Liebesverbot” are still awaiting local production, as are a number of Verdi’s works.
How many of us remember today such as the names of Verdi’s “Alzira” and “Stiffelio”?
So let us pray for an early production of “Edgar,” not as in the days of drought we pray for rain, but as in the hour of abundance we cry out for more!
Probably not a few who listened on Saturday to “La Rondine” were, in the good old-fashioned phrase, agreeably disappointed. Intrinsically unimportant thought the music may be, it is pretty steadily agreeable – agreeable not only through an adroit and well-wrought repetition of pleasant commonplaces, but through the avoidance of some peculiarly Puccinian exaggerations and mannerisms.
Though it be now the mode to scorn the ancient shibboleths of tastes, there are those who will recognize with satisfaction the unwontedly large part, for Puccini, that good taste plays in this particular score. For two of the three acts the music has grace, vivacity, impetus and, at times, brilliancy and elegance.
It is music that suggests the mundane quality and certain things of Massenet, and it never offends through excess of any kind. Nor are the simple emotions of the last act made ridiculous by imposition of a mock-heroic utterance.
Vastly inferior as “La Rondine” unquestionably is to the great operettas of Vienna, which it has been supposed to emulate; to the “Rosenkavalier” of Richard Strauss and to Puccini’s own “Manon Lescaut” and “La Bohème,” it bears constant testimony to its composer’s proficiency as a musical artisan.
The orchestration is adept, the dialogue is skillfully conducted. The big ensemble of the second act is the work of a master hand. And, while the use of the waltz brings nothing in its trail that suggests in more than the mere trick of rhythm the waltzes of Vienna that Puccini sought to imitate, its recurrence is effective, aiding a score as a whole barren of original inspiration to win the ears and hearts of not too exacting hearers.
“La Traviata” Restated
The plot, as already told in this place, is a restatement of the familiar story of “La Traviata,” ending less drastically, in separation rather than in death. The first act, in the drawing room of Magda, the lady-love of the rich Parisian banker, Rambaldo, and the second act in the famous Bal Bullier, give the opportunity for engaging stage pictures, of which the Metropolitan production takes eager advantage.
Mr. von Wymetal is at his best in the direction of these scenes, where the women are costumed in the gay hats and crinolines of the Second Empire and the men in the picturesque male attire of that period. The individual acting, the grouping and the dances are alike for the most part capital.
Then, the final act, in the garden of a villa near Antibes, shows one of Mr. Urban’s brightly colored exteriors, replete with trellises and shrubbery and flowers and a big patch of Mediterranean blue. It is in this gaudy setting that the lovers, whose idyl has run on the rocks of parental disapproval, part. Since Ruggero, the innocent lad from the provinces, may not marry a woman of Magda’s past, she generously returns to Paris and her rich banker, leaving him free for whatever convent girl his watchful mamma may choose.
Nature could hardly smile more brightly at their grief than in this highly colored picture from the southern coast of France.
Of the singing-actors, Miss Bori has done nothing more charming to the eye, the ear and the intelligence than her most winsome and appealing impersonation of Magda. Nor has Mr. Gigli, although his acting is inferior, sung more beguilingly than in the role of Ruggero.
Excellent achievements may be credited also to Mme. Fleischer as Magda’s clever and lively maid, Lisette; to Mr. Tokatyan as the Bohemian poet, Prunier, and to Mr. Ludikar as the banker Rambaldo. Mr. Bellezza conducted most commendably. The applause was genuine and copious.
Review of Irving Weil in the Evening Journal
PUCCINI’S ‘THE SWALLOW’ SUNG IN METROPOLITAN PREMIERE
The mouldy old platitude that genius, even in an off moment, out-tops mediocrity at its best, finds a neatly appropriate place at the head of a review of Giacomo Puccini's opera "La Rondine" (“The Swallow”). The piece new to America until the Metropolitan gave it a somewhat belated premiere last Saturday is easily enough discerned to be second-best Puccini, but it is also the great Italian melodist in a peculiarly gracious and charming revelation.
If one happens to be not in too arty or rigorous mood; if Spring be close at hand and a spoonful or two of romantic choir have somehow been poured into one's bloodstream to make it flow a bit faster than ordinarily, why then “La Rondine” will turn out to be an opera with a delightfully sentimental allure. It is not as we have said, the finest or most highly pulsing Puccini, but it is still a Puccini who knows how to captivate an audience.
The music of the opera seems to have been laid away in lavender and to emerge with this gentle, but lovely, fragrance clinging to it. It is without the boldness or the outline of vigorous distinction, but, on the other hand, it suits the dramatic tale it adorns with especial aptness. And behind and within its unflagging charm there are to be felt the fascinating skill and ease of a supremely practiced hand.
AMONG LAST WORKS
“La Rondine” belongs to Puccini's pretty generally sterile years after he completed “Madama Butterfly,” “The Girl of the Golden West," now fairly thickly dust-covered on one of the upper shelves of the operatic storehouse, immediately preceded it. The triptych of one-act operas, of which only “Gianni Schicchi” weakly survives, followed it. For these and the unfinished and pathetically barren “Turandot” represent what Puccini wrestled more or less desperately over for the final twenty-odd years of his life.
Here, as always, Puccini was wise in his choice of a libretto. The story is cleverly sugarcoated romance, with plenty of movement in it, a handful of excellent dramatic climaxes and an appeal as old as the first sentimental tale of the first sentimental courtesan. It is a shrewd amalgam of “Manon” and “La Bohème” and '”La Traviata” and what could be pleasanter.
PLOT OF OPERA
This Magda (who, after all, is not so remote from Hermann Sudermann as a careless person might suppose), is revealed in her well-kept home in the Paris of the Second Empire, surrounded by a few handpicked demimondaines, their gallants, comic relief poet and the elderly gentleman who pays for the establishment. Enter Ruggero, the lad from the provinces who has never been in wicked Paris before.
Given Magda's still cherished dream of an early love affair that blossomed in the Bal Bullier, on Montmartre (where, as every American tourist knows, it still is); her restiveness in what may be very elegantly called her gilded cage; a wild impulse to renew the dream of the dance hall; a glance of the eye between her and Ruggero, and you are off to the third act in a villa on the Mediterranean Cote d'Azur, as every Frenchman and the P. L. M. railroad love to capitalize it.
And then, like all the peculiarly conscientious heroines of the sentimental half-world, Magda gives up her Ruggero when he wants to marry her; for, as she explains, she wasn't always that kind of girl, marriage having been something that theretofore she was considerably absent-minded about. So, like the swallow she flies back to her old life, as Samuel Shipman would say.
The thing is really more sentimentally attractive than we perhaps have made it out to be, very largely because of the fragrance of Puccini's music and also because of the fetching performance the Metropolitan gives of the opera.
Chief among the numerous ingredients that make for a splendidly adjusted production are the virile and empathetic conducting of Vincenzo Bellezza, the irresistible settings of Joseph Urban, the unusually able stage direction of Wilhelm von Wymetal and the singing and acting of Lucrezia Bori, who was the Magda.
Mr. Urban not only designed the lovely Second Empire interior of Magda's home, the remarkably effective Bal Bullier set and the dream of a colorful exterior on the Cote d'Azur, but painted them – and there is all the difference in the world between that kind of job and ordinary journeyman's notion of what a scene designer has in mind. The settings do as much as anything to evoke the atmosphere for Puccini's work.
Miss Bori brought intensity and a bewitching account of variable mood to her portrait of Magda. She was indeed fully the femme desiree of the piece. Editha Fleischer, in the Musetta role of Magda's maid and vivacious companion, was neither too much, nor too little, the soubrette – a delightful piece of acting of its own kind. And the singing of both was first quality.
Beniamino Gigli did his best with the innocent, Ruggero, which presented fewer difficulties to him than others of his roles. There were some unnecessary tears in his singing, but it was Giglian singing nonetheless. Armand Tokatyan was unexpectedly adroit in his acting of the mock heroics of the poet, Prunier, his singing, too, was admirable.
Review of Leonard Liebling in The World
‘LA RONDINE’ DELIGHTS AT N. Y. PREMIERE
Puccini’s Opera Has Persuasive Lyrical Music; Story Echoes Sappho, Bohème, and Camille.
Yesterday afternoon marked the American premiere, at the Metropolitan Opera House of “La Rondine,” by Giacomo Puccini, an opera written a few years before that composer’s death and immediately antedating his creation of “Turandot.”
“La Rondine” means “The Swallow,” and, as its name implies, the music of the opera is of light texture, and hardly ever reaches a higher climax than that of persuasive lyricism. Heart-breaking pathos and shattering tragedy are entirely absent in this score by Puccini, the artist in tone who achieved the intensive accents of a “Madama Butterfly” and a “Tosca.”
Advance reports after the European premiere of “La Rondine” described it as “comic opera.” As presented here yesterday, the work is not at all a comic opera, but a romantic opera treated tenderly and a trifle playfully. Puccini revealed his piece after the early productions abroad, and no doubt changed his original plan to give to the world a higher order of musical comedy, an intention which he had announced in newspaper interviews.
The story of “La Rondine” is a sketchy blend of “Sappho,” “Bohème” and “Camille” (“Traviata”). Magda, who has a rich protector, Rambaldo, goes to the Bal Bullier to renew memories of girlhood romance she had experienced there. She enters into a flirtation with Ruggero, which grows into love.
The couple are happy in a cottage until Ruggero receives a letter from his mother in reply to his communication asking her to bless his intended marriage with Magda.
REVEALS HER PAST
The mother is willing to welcome her son’s innocent bride in her home.
Ruggero shows the letter to Magda, who is overcome with remorse and reveals her past life to her lover. She bids him farewell and returns to her former gay life in Paris.
There are only a few incidents of action in the libretto, but they are presented with delicate charm and an air of youthful whimsicality. Puccini successfully follows out the same line in his music. He strives for melody and finds plenty of it. And it is a pleasure to say that the melody is of the best Puccini brand, ranking not unworthily with that of his “Bohème,” for instance.
He treats his orchestra with a restrained and almost reticent hand. Some of the ariettas and duets are noteworthily appealing. The merry happenings at the second act ball are described in sparkling, simulative music. There is a waltz strain that which even Lehar has done nothing more lovely or languorous.
Altogether, “La Rondine” is an amiable, delightful bit of operatic fantasy, and not the least of its ingratiating attractions is the air and atmosphere of youth and romance which pervade every moment of the work.
It is by no means a great opera, but probably Puccini tried to make it merely a pleasing opera. He has succeeded. And musically, it is an infinitely more resourceful opus than “Turandot.”
The performance was of the finest order. Lucrezia Bori, as Magda, was a dainty and pretty heroine. She sang as though she liked her measures, and gave a lavish lyric outpouring. Gigli followed suit as Ruggero, and his tones had melting quality. Tokatyan and Editha Fleischer furnished well-characterized vocalism and comedy acting that registered merrily. Pavel Ludikar was a handsomely dignified and resonant Rambaldo.
Picturesque and colorful scenery came from Joseph Urban’s repertoire.
Vincenzo Bellezza conducted with the appropriate sympathy and warmth. He was carried away frequently with his own emotional response. He almost danced the Leharian waltz.
From the review of Charles Pike Sawyer in the Post
Puccini’s “La Rondine” in a Splendid Performance at the Metropolitan Opera House
Saving the best things to the last is a habit which should be more honored in the breach than the observance. Too often do we spend our time getting ready or saving up until it is too late and our capacity for keen enjoyment is passed. Too often do we wade through that field of corn looking for a bigger ear only to take the leavings at the end. It has been the curse of humanity ever since the beginning of the world and will, in all probability, continue until its end.
Certainly, it was that which left the lovely Puccini “La Rondine,” amusing, tuneful musical comedy, to almost the end of the season at the Metropolitan Opera House, when we were beginning to tire a bit even of the greatest of music, and turn loose upon us such as “Imperia” and “Violanta” when we were on our toes. The revivals were better planned, for it was early in the season that the great performances of “Norma” and “Der Rosenkavalier” were given. Or maybe Mr. Gatti-Caazza was saving up for a purpose—to wake us up with “La Rondine” and give us the vigor to go on to the close. Just the same, why “Turandot” had its premiere in America before “La Rondine” will always remain a mystery.
Even though the story of “La Rondine” was capitally told by Giuseppe Adami – the tale is most interesting and full of amusing scenes and charming sentiment – and though Puccini furnished some lovely and lilting music, its success Saturday afternoon— for it was – was due largely to the capital work of the pairs of lovers – Bori and Gigli and Fleischer and Tokatyan, who were in fine voice and spirits and always perfectly in the picture. Urged on by the great artistry and restraint of Bori, queen of lyric opera, Gigli sang and acted as he never has before at the Metropolitan. He was a perfect companion piece to Bori. What more could be asked, except the lack of shouting in the orchestra pit, and Bellezza attended to that in masterly fashion.
If there has ever been greater enthusiasm in the Metropolitan [the reviewer] happened to be absent and he hasn't missed much in over forty years.
Account and review on front page of The Morning Telegraph by Charles Isaacson, Music Editor
MOMENTOUS DEBUT OF JOYOUS RONDINE
Not a Masterpiece But More Than One
Will become Regular Part of Repertoire --- Bori Adorable --- Gigli Sings Spiritedly --- Opera a Metropolitan Achievement
[The Morning Telegraph had highlighted that this extra edition of the paper was a “first” in New York journalism. The entire front page was devoted to accounts, photos, interviews, and a review. In a box at the bottom of the first page, they noted: “There have been newspaper extras for every sort of happening except musical. There have been famous fight extras issued by The Morning Telegraph. Now the opera extra! This extra goes to press with the beginning of the last act of “La Rondine.” May this open a new era in journalism and art.”]
On the upper left side of the first page, totally devoted to the “Rondine” premiere, there is a box entitled “As We Go” describing the event in detail: “At 1:30 – The subway spilled mobs. The lobbies were jammed to the doors. No elbowroom for those who wanted to gulp down the libretto. A last minute change in the cast put Dorothea Flexer in the role of Suzy to replace Miss Merle Alcock, who is indisposed.
1:45, the orchestra comes in, 2:00 scheduled time for [the start], second time late this season; 2:04 asbestos curtain goes up; 2:07 lights out; 2:08 Bellezza enters conductor’s box to big ovation – the waltz is on.
The [very first] scenes. Gales of laughter during Tokatyan’s solo at the piano. Bori has to step forward twice to acknowledge applause after her solo. Gigli as a comic country boy brings more hilarity.
First act curtain at 2:44. Eleven recalls and seven solid minutes of applause breaks record of years at the opera house. Bori receives an overwhelming personal ovation, and is showered with flowers.
Second act curtain rises at 3:06. The audience drowns out the music with its applause – “great success” the general verdict.
Second act ends at 3:47; twelve recalls for the cast. Bori and Gigli get special recalls.
Cheering fills house. Conceded to be most spontaneous enthusiasm ever registered by a Met audience. Bellezza is brought out for a bow. Bori keeps Gigli on the stage to take bows with her.
3:58 curtain rose for the last act.
A very important event in American musical history is being enacted at the Metropolitan Opera House, as this report goes across the telephone to the city desk.
The second act is over, and the opinions of Puccini's “La Rondine,” born at the dress rehearsal and culled over and over ever since, are now confirmed, at the premier public presentation.
(By the way, this is the way to write a review, after a second hearing, not dashed off, without a moment's time to reflect.)
On “The Swallow” there has been time a-plenty to weigh the evidence. Now, hearing the opera again, we are not only in love with the fascinating, flapperish score, but we are inclined to deem it a milestone in musical history, the first long leg of a new path of entertainment, itself an offshoot from the main-traveled road of grand opera.
Even the Met folk are regarding “La Rondine” as a "Mid-Lenten Entertainment," treating it rather lightly. But it is to me, fragile as it is, to be sure, highly important.
As smart and bright as is this score, it is significant for what it seeks to do, as well as what it actually accomplishes.
A successful grand opera writer, the most widely acclaimed of his day, in the height of his glory and powers, turned out a piece, as the musical plenty of box office appeal, and if thrown into the Broadway arena right now, would run a year or so.
It is not that Puccini gave himself to the popular field, but that he introduced into grand opera the stuff which could draw into the opera house the most recalcitrant and backward of the public which shies, balks, runs away from anything bearing the name. In producing music which the tired businessman can enjoy, Puccini has never forgotten his stage. He has kept it on an aristocratic plane. He has brought out of the full orchestra, the real measure of its usefulness. He has given to the most gifted of singers, roles which engage their complete power, vocally and dramatically.
Here then is the significant thing. Deftly has Puccini employed the very elements which have hitherto drawn a bewildered public gratefully to another kind of theatre where they were sure they could “understand.”
If Mr. Gatti could present “La Rondine” in the Metropolitan Opera House during the months the house is closed he would give 200,000 new people a view of the interior of the temple of grand opera, acquaint them with Puccini and bring them back for “Bohème,” “Tosca,” “Butterfly” and those which are not of Puccini!
“The Swallow” is not a masterpiece. It will not be remembered long after its hearing, as “Tosca” lingers to haunt and torment.
Here is a work which can be retained in the repertoire of the Met and provided the subscribers once a season or so, for a palatable tidbit, for an evening of spontaneous, melodic and bright entertainment.
The first act is admirable; the second falters a bit; the third is great.
Separating the last act from the earlier moments, we have a scene which can compare favorably with the best in “Bohème.” Here in perfectly logical manner, Puccini has moved from the lightness and offhandedness of the first mood into a state of fierce, concentrated passion.
We have, in this opera, Puccini on a holiday. He has chosen to dramatize the waltz. He has written a symphony-opera (as Stravinsky wrote. an oratorio-opera) on the waltz. Ravel conceived a choreographic fantasy, “La Valse” (which he is conducting tomorrow) – a picture of old-time Vienna, a vague, fleeting impression of the gaiety destroyed, pessimism over unseeing madness.
Many original touches are to be observed in “Rondine.” We have two lead tenors, with the star not certain!
The adorable artist is never for a moment out of the listener's heart; she is exquisite in every mood, and when she leaves for the ball, I doubt if there is a star on Broadway who could more intensely hold any audience on her every gesture. The way that Bori reads the letter had me weeping at the dress rehearsal. Don't know what will happen this time.
Gigli is funny; the audience screamed; now is he singing masterfully.
The four stars have been cast with the best of taste. It would be difficult to conceive of better singing than is given us by Bori throughout the opera. Gigli, to whom the composer has presented some of the finest vocal opportunities of a lifetime, does some of the greatest singing of his career.
Miss Fleischer is adorable as Lisette. The music is written right in her voice. The role of Prunier is the big acting opportunity. Tokatyan makes the poet properly egotistical, bombastic, and mock dreaming, and sings spirited and melodic measures admirably.
Rambaldo is well handled. The rest of the singing of the cast, even to the two phrases of Jimmy Wolfe, is well done.
Mr. Bellezza is conducting as if it were the big moment of his life. He is smiling all over. He is enjoying it, he has the opera moving with waltz-like dreaminess and smoothness.
Excuse me a moment—there goes the curtain for the last act.
Later: I've just heard the letter read again. I can hardly see; isn't one foolish to by moved by a thing on the stage? You can understand what I mean. Here I am, a man, weeping at just Bori and Gigli.
Just before we leave let me predict this: If the Ricordis permit it (and I recommend that they do) the waltz tunes will be played by everybody within a month. Puccini's big middle act waltz is able to compete with anything.
The arias, duets and second act quartet will become part of the standard concert repertoire.
“Rondine” will do more for grand opera, I think in the way of developing audiences for it, than anything one could mention offhand.