North East & YorkshireOperaReview

Opera North’s La rondine – Leeds Grand Theatre

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Composer: Giacomo Puccini

Conductor: Kerem Hasan

Director: James Hurley

Updated from the mid 19th century to the interwar years not too long after its 1917 premiere, Opera North’sLa rondine (The Swallow) is the final justification, if such were needed, for the company’s Green Season. Before the interval especially, the stage dominated by a sunburst of a flower display, Leslie Travers’ set and Gabrielle Dalton’s costumes ensure that it looks as good as it sounds. And it sounds very good indeed. With a particularly large orchestra at his disposal, Kerem Hasan finds all the romantic intensity of the score, from sumptuous climaxes to intimate exchanges.

One of the peculiarities of 19th and early 20th opera is the fascination the Parisian demi-mondeheld for composers – and this time Puccini mines it for comic and romantic effect, even though the real world has its due at the end, a wonderfully down-beat coda to the preceding frolics. Act 1 in Magda’s house is light, flirtatious, with Magda completing the poet Prunier’s new song and a trio of Magda’s friends mocking all in sight. True, Rambaldo, her lover, is a constant warning of where her money comes from and plot-teasers abound, from the young man, Ruggero, newly come to town, to Lisette, Magda’s maid, slipping off to Bullier’s night club with her lover, Prunier, and Magda secretly disguising herself and following.

The Bullier’s scene that follows is both the triumph of hedonism and the start of its downfall. The wild whirl of the Parisian night scene – apache dancers and all – culminates in a tremendous quartet with chorus in praise of love, then dramatically the mood changes. Rambaldo appears, Magda chooses Ruggero and the third act sees them on the Riviera, running short of money. It’s when Ruggero proposes marriage as the solution to their problems that Magda has to decide whether she can ruin the name of a respectable family.

James Hurley manages the change of tone as adroitly as the constant comings and goings of the first two acts and is rewarded by wonderfully committed and skilful performances from a cast of newcomers (or near-newcomers) to the company and chorus members. As Magda Galina Averina makes the most of her romantic melodies, eye-popping high notes and all, and forms a credible partner for Sebastien Gueze’s Ruggero, a nice young man from the provinces with a ringing tenor voice. The second couple are perfectly realised in Elgan Llyr Thomas’ elegant Prunier and Claire Lees’ mischievous Lisette. Pasquale Orchard, Kathryn Sharpe and Laura Kelly-McInroy form an exuberant trio of Magda’s friends – and the chorus has never sounded better.

Plays in repertory until 28th October 2023, then tours.

The Reviews Hub Score

Elegant, romantic

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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