Stands up to huge promises for future seasons: if La Rondine d’Opéra is reviewed


The Rondine

If Opera at Belcombe Court

Prom 58: Public Service Broadcasting, BBCSO, Jules Buckley

Royal Albert Hall

One swallow may not make a summer, but it certainly helps end the season. “Perhaps, like the swallow, you will migrate to a luminous land, to love”, sings the poet Prunier to Magda, the heroine of The Rondine, but love itself is the real bird of passage in Puccini’s magnificent Viennese operetta. Magda trades her old lover for a younger, prettier model and after a summer of happiness leaves him too, without too much regret. That’s basically it. No death springs from the ramparts, no ritual disembowelment; none of the stuff we’re supposed to find so regressive and problematic in an opera, and so visceral and cool in an HBO drama. Just a simple, plausible romance, played to glowing waltz melodies. It is probably Puccini’s least popular mature opera.

But on a West Country evening in the last days of summer, when the corks of prosecco pop gently as the sun sets and the shadows lengthen on the soft green lawns? Come on: it’s perfect, and nothing will convince me that Michael Volpe, the new executive director of If Opera (the former formation known as Opera at Iford), did not choose it for precisely this reason . The venue for If Opera’s inaugural season was Belcombe Court, an impossibly pretty mansion just outside the very pretty town of Bradford-upon-Avon and, well, you’re not going to Wozzeck in a conservation area, now are you? Not that I would have put anything beyond Volpe, the spirit, and apparently the plan is for If Opera to be itinerant – adapting its projects to different locations in the English Midwest.

On opening night, however, we had The Rondine in a large tent in the tussocky, lantern-lit gardens of Belcombe Court, with only the half-hourly horn honking of the train to Westbury (or perhaps Portsmouth Harbour) to pierce the idyll. It’s unfortunate that such an outburst coincided with the exact moment in Act 1 where Prunier (Ryan Vaughan Davies) lays out his swallow metaphor for Magda (Meinir Wyn Roberts), and where in Bruno Ravella’s production, an animated bird soars and hovers in the background. . That aside, the opera tent sounded pretty decent: big, bright acoustics that took on the colors of the 26-piece orchestra and rocked them, though the cast sometimes struggled to achieve clarity (l audibility was never a problem).

But it was warm, it was fragrant, and under the baton of If Opera’s artistic director Oliver Gooch, Puccini’s Lehár-inspired melodies battered some very seductive eyelashes. Ravella updated the action to the early 1960s, as required by the Opera Directors Act, but in the first two acts, at least, Flavio Graff’s designs evoked an age-old atmosphere. jazz that sounded right and elegant. The way Graff and lighting and video designer Luca Panetta lit and framed the wide, shallow stage was a lesson in how to make the most of a potentially awkward performance space.

And the cast? Well, Roberts made a touching Magda, with a generous sound that wrapped around Joseph Buckmaster’s tenor in their love duets (he was her toyboy, Ruggero), making the whole ensemble light up. As Plum Tree, Davies exuded such a relaxed vocal charm that it was easy to assume he was destined to be the romantic frontman. In fact, her pairing with Lorena Paz Nieto (a bubbly maid) as Lisette left you wishing Puccini had done more of their subplot. Puccini clearly understood the convention that operettas are meant to have a serious couple and a comic couple, but like many things in The Rondine, he never quite runs with it. It’s high-level nitpicking: what he left us is still just as beautiful, and If Opera’s production is full of promise for the seasons to come.

At the Proms, the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jules Buckley performed with Public Service Broadcasting, an independent band whose members seem to have left the pages of The guy magazine. Their latest project, This new noise, was a musical celebration of the BBC’s centenary. The BBC, we were told, is invaluable and irreplaceable, and the performance ended with the full orchestra silently leaving the stage in Haydn fashion. Goodbye symphony, to better conjure up the existential threat the Society currently faces from market forces, nasty conservatives, or perhaps Charles Moore – the exact nature of the threat was not entirely clear.

It was more fun than it looks, and the hipster beard quotient in the arena was visibly higher than normal for a midweek prom. Strobe lights in the room and a large screen played archival footage: Broadcasting House, Daventry’s transmitter and a slightly messy visual love letter to Lord Reith, set to throbbing chords. There was a melancholic setting of the pre-war German poem “A Cello Sings in Daventry”, sung by Seth Lakeman (Werner Egk once wrote an entire radio opera with this title, which might have made an interesting project for Proms). For much of the evening, however, the music did what pop bands always do when they have access to an orchestra: use it to play grand backing harmonies while the rockers more or less inaudibly weave. before. He received a standing ovation.

“You realize it’s a watercolor.”

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