Jonathan Tetelman makes his Met debut in a splendid ‘Années folles’ staging of La rondine

United StatesUnited States Puccini, La rondine: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, New York / Speranza Scappucci (conductor). Metropolitan Opera, 26.3.2024. (RP)

Angel Blue (Magda) and Jonathan Tetelman (Ruggero) © Karen Almond Met Opera

Director – Nicolas Joël
Sets – Ezio Frigerio
Costumes – Franca Squarciapino
Lighting – Duane Schuler

Magda – Angel Blue
Ruggero – Jonathan Tetelman
Lisette – Emily Pogorelc
Prunier – Bekhzod Davronov
Rambaldo – Alfred Walker

Puccini’s La rondine has returned to the Metropolitan Opera with a delightful cast and the late Nicolas Joël’s stunning production. It was also a night for three house debuts which made the performance as much an occasion as it was a joy.

Despite its charms, the opera has always had its critics. It was Puccini’s stab at Viennese operetta without the dialogue. The obvious similarities to his La bohème and Verdi’s La traviata have either rankled or enchanted since its premiere. La rondine contains many of the same themes and subplots of the other two operas, but its heroine, unlike Mimì or Violetta, is very much alive at the end.

The plot revolves around double romances thwarted to one degree or another by the social mores of the time. Magda is a Parisian courtesan who loves and is loved by Ruggero. He, however, knows nothing of her life as the mistress of the wealthy Rambaldo. Reminiscent of La traviata, they leave Paris for the Riviera where they live lavishly and run up debts. Ruggero has written his mother asking for money, further adding that he is in love and wishes to marry. The mother writes a loving letter to her son bestowing her blessing on the union. Magda’s conscious and true feelings for Ruggero compel her to tell him the truth. She must leave him for his own good.

The other romance is between Lisette, Magda’s maid, and the painter Prunier. He is a bit of a control freak and wants to reshape her to his liking. Lisette has raided Magda’s wardrobe for an outing to Bar Bullier with Prunier, but he sends her repeatedly back to change into something more to his taste. His attempt to launch her as a music hall singer is a total failure, and she happily returns to her life as Magda’s maid. She and Prunier also arrange their next rendezvous, and they exit content simply to be lovers without the dreams and desires of anything more.

First staged at Covent Garden in 2002, Joël updated the action from the 1860s to 1920s, which is shortly after La rondine’s 1917 Monte Carlo premiere. The juxtaposition in time afforded the late Ezio Frigerio the opportunity to create some beautiful backdrops that felt more Jugenstil than Art Nouveau, but they were perfectly attuned to the sensibilities of this most subtle of Puccini’s operas.

The set for Magda’s soiree, where she serves tea to her friends and meets the handsome young Ruggero, is sumptuously decorated with masterful friezes over an arcade. Bullier’s is equally handsome, with a zinc bar and plenty of room for dancing. The two pairs of lovers are seated cozily together in a scene which could serve for the Café Momus in La bohème. The final act takes place in the solarium of a posh hotel on the Riviera, and its furnishings are simple but elegant. Gorgeous stained-glass windows of grapevines in vivid purple and green are the backdrop for outpourings of passion and total despair.

[l-r] Emily Pogorelc (Lisette), Bekhzod Davronov (Prunier), Jonathan Tetelman (Ruggero) and Angel Blue (Magda) © Karen Almond/Met Opera

Ebullient, both in terms of voice and personality, sums up Angel Blue. Her smile brightens the stage, and her plush voice throbs with emotion. Watching her sunny disposition fade into tender resignation and then register all loss of hope was heartbreaking in the final scene. Puccini composed the beloved aria, ‘Chi il bel sogno di Doretta’, for Magda, and Blue sang it with all the charm and luster that one could hope for.

Tenor Jonathan Tetelman as Ruggero had the debonair charm and lightheartedness of a young Cary Grant. His tenor is slender and true but with weight enough to carry easily into the house. Bravos rang out after Ruggero’s brief ariosos in the first two acts, and even more so after his Act III aria, ‘Dimmi che vuoi seguirmi alla mia casa’, in which he begs Magda to follow him wherever he may go.

One of the most magical moments of the performance came in Act II when Blue floated a stunning high note on ‘l’amore’. Tetelman did the same when he implored her to be ‘not my lover, but my love’. Appetites have been whetted for his Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly in April, and for Blue in a new production of Aida that premieres on New Year’s Eve.

Also making his house debut was Bekhzod Davronov as Prunier. His lyric tenor is on the lighter side, but that mattered little. Davronov was a perfect cad, charming indeed but a rogue nonetheless.

Emily Pogorelc is a scene stealer. Her Lisette has neither Musetta’s mercenary qualities nor emotional depth, but nevertheless she is a spitfire and very funny. Every moment that Pogorelc was on stage was pure delight, and her soprano is lovely.

One of Puccini’s finest lyrical creations is ‘Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso’, when the four lovers sit together and drink a toast to love. This quartet, so full of youth and vitality and sung by such winning singers, made it a very special moment.

Speranza Scappucci led the Met Orchestra in a performance that shimmered and sparkled in some of the lightest and loveliest music Puccini ever wrote. In the scenes where darker emotions surfaced, whether in Magda’s confrontations with Rambaldo (a solid Alfred Walker) or the final parting of the lovers, the orchestra was the rock on which the drama was built.

The final scene is as poignant as any by Puccini. Blue stood center stage with her arms outstretched and anguish written on her face and floated one final shimmering high note that ached with pain. The violins played softly and chimes sounded as the curtain fell.

Rick Perdian

Leave a Comment