Boston Opera Collaborative presents pared-down Puccini with “Rondine Remix”

May 18, 2017 at 12:35 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

Jessica Jacobs as Magda and Fran Rogers as Ruggero in Boston Opera Collaborative's "La Rondine Remix." Photo: Dan Busler

Jessica Jacobs as Magda and Fran Rogers as Ruggero in
Boston Opera Collaborative’s “La Rondine Remix.” Photo: Dan Busler

Shortened versions of large-scale operas have become something of a specialty for Boston Opera Collaborative. Last year, the company presented a version of Gounod’s Faust that streamlined the tragic story into a bite-sized 90-minutes.

Wednesday night at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Boston Opera Collaborative offered a similarly taut and nimble take on La Rondine, Puccini’s tale of love, deceit, and heartbreak. 

Puccini’s opera was a flop at its 1917 premiere, and the composer subsequently rewrote the opera three times, each version with a different ending. The original story tells of Magda, a courtesan who is drawn into a love affair outside of her closed experience. She leaves her companion, Rambaldo, and finds a lover in the innocent Ruggero. The two are a fine pair and end up living together in the French Riviera. Ruggero longs to marry Magda, but she refuses and confesses her past to him. Like a swallow, she returns to Paris and Rambaldo, leaving behind a devastated Ruggero.

In the second version, the poet Prunier entices Magda to return home and she leaves without saying goodbye to Ruggero. The third version turns the tables on Magda. There, Ruggero learns of his lover’s past and he angrily rebukes her, leaving her alone with her maid, Lisette.

Boston Opera Collaborative offered yet another retooling Wednesday night that focused the story squarely on Magda. Patricia-Maria Weinmann’s abridged production placed the drama in 1957 Paris. Magda is a kept women rather than a courtesan, and her love affair with Ruggero is set up as a “what if” scenario. After leaving Ruggero, Weinmann’s retelling ends with a flashback, where Magda wonders if she should follow her friends to the café (actually a variation on the original ending to Act 1). She watches as Prunier and Lisette pledge their love to each other and prepare to go out for the evening. Magda remains behind, left to imagine an alternate future.

The remixed ending works well, and Weinmann’s production kept the action moving swiftly by cutting some of the extraneous scenes from each of the three acts to focus on Magda and Ruggero.

The cast featured a lineup of fine singers. Jessica Jacobs was an aptly torn and troubled Magda who was caught between a staid relationship and a sweltering love affair. Jacobs’ singing was superb, her voice radiant and well suited to Puccini’s style. Her singing of “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” sounded full and rich in its sweeping high notes.

Jacobs, for the most part, had good chemistry with Fran Rogers, who performed the role of Ruggero. The tenor’s voice possesses a bright, clarion quality and was a fine match with Jacobs’ singing in their many duets. But Rogers didn’t quite sell Ruggero’s anguish when the character learns of Magda’s past. His acting was stiff, and his face looked more as if he had just lost a seat on the bus rather than the love of his life. 

As Prunier, Josh L. Rotz brought charm and humor. His singing was bright and clear, and his diction was of spring-water clarity. His aria “Forse, come la rondine” was a highlight of the first act. 

As Lisette, Jennifer Caraluzzi sang with a ripe, athletic soprano that had a slight touch of weight in the upper register. She had excellent partners in Rhaea D’Aliesio, Carley DeFranco, and Susannah Thornton, who each sang warmly as Bianca, Yvette, and Suzy respectively. Samuel Bowen sang robustly in the brief role of Rambaldo.

La Rondine, with its small principal cast, translates deftly into a chamber opera, and Mathieu D’Ordine’s arrangement of the score for string quartet and piano retained much of Puccini’s flowering style. Music director Brendon Shapiro led with a graceful ebb and flow to the music, but the string quartet’s pitchy intonation marred an otherwise tasteful rendition of the score.

As with previous BOC productions, sets were minimal but effective. Tables and chairs were just enough to transform the performance space into a living room, café, and seaside inn. Performances like this one remind listeners that opera is, principally, a spectacle of the imagination.

La Rondine will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Central Square Theater, Cambridge.

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