Flying Away: La rondine at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

Puccini – La rondine

Magda – Ailyn Pérez
Lisette – Roberta Mameli
Ruggero – Dmytro Popov
Prunier – Francesco Castoro
Rambaldo – Francesco Verna
Périchaud – Nicolò Donini
Gobin – Alfonso Zambuto
Crébillon – Li Shuxin
Yvette – Francesca Longari
Bianca – Marta Pluda
Suzy – Valentina Corò
Rabonnier – Diego Barretta
Georgette – Elena Bazzo
Gabriella – Cristina Pagliai
Lolette – Chiara Chisu
Un maggiordomo – Giovanni Mazzei

Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino / Marco Armiliato.
Stage director – Denis Krief

Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Florence, Italy.  Sunday, September 27th, 2020.

This afternoon marked my first visit to the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.  Opened in 2011, it’s a handsome venue and a major addition to the cultural scene both in Tuscany and in Italy more widely.  For its 2020 – 21 season, the Maggio plans to present a full season of opera and concerts – with some very interesting casts.  The attraction of this revival of Denis Krief’s 2017 staging of La rondine was the role debut of Ailyn Pérez as Magda, under the direction of the experienced Italian conductor, Marco Armiliato.

Photo ©: Cristiana Andolcetti

In a note in the program book, Krief explained how he had adapted his staging to the current sanitary situation.  Other than the fact that the principals and chorus wore plastic visors in Act 2, it actually felt, having not seen the original run, that we were seeing a perfectly conventional night at the opera.  Krief described how the singers were unable to kiss or get too intimate with each other, but it’s testament to his vivid direction, and the strong performances of the cast, that one didn’t notice any lack of intimacy, rather there was absolutely a sense of that blooming love between two people, particularly in Act 2.

Photo ©: Cristiana Andolcetti

Krief made the evening very much Magda’s story.  Ruggero didn’t get his opening aria, which meant that until Act 2, he made little impression on us as spectators.  Instead, there was a sense that Magda had gone to Bullier to relive a memory, perhaps to make right a feeling of never having fallen in love before.  It just happened to be a coincidence that Ruggero was there – it could have been any other man.  There was also something dreamy in Pérez’s stage presence, a sense of someone detached from the world, but who somehow through Ruggero experienced that coup de foudre that she had longed to experience but had never had.  Krief’s staging might have been purely illustrative at first sight, but there was a deeper intelligence and humanity under the surface, that made this so much more than the sum of its parts.  It looked good (sets also by Krief), the loft setting of Act 1, segueing into a fashionable nightspot in Act 2, with Act 3 taking place in a beach hut – including wallpaper à la Richard Jones.  Even with the additional measures imposed currently, the chorus danced together, characters engaged with each other (including shaking hands), and there was a believable intimacy between the characters.

Photo ©: Cristiana Andolcetti

Musically the first thing that struck me was the depth of the Maggio’s casting – every single role was satisfyingly sung and often more than that.  Having enjoyed many rewarding evenings conducted by Armiliato, I must admit to a rather equivocal impression of his conducting this afternoon.  This is an indisputably gorgeous score, full of those soaring Puccinian melodies.  Yet far too often, Armiliato ground to a halt.  That celebrated aria, ‘chi il bel sogno di Doretta’, seemed to hover in stasis, lacking forward momentum.  Similarly, as Ruggero recounted the letter from his mother, again the music appeared to have been divested of any forward momentum.  He did, however, obtain some glorious playing from the Maggio orchestra – the sheer range of colour he found in the orchestration was remarkable.  Of course, one could understand the temptation to luxuriate in the sound, but I just longed for a sense of impetus.  The Maggio chorus sang with vibrant and generous tone, throwing themselves with glee into everything asked of them.

Photo ©: Cristiana Andolcetti

Pérez made for a lovely Magda.  What gave so much pleasure in her vocalism is how she used those Italianate vowels to colour the tone, savouring the text and bringing it to life.  Her golden-toned soprano soared in her big opening number, though I did have a slight sense that she would have appreciated it being taken at a slightly less languorous tempo.  In Act 2, she brought out that feeling of wistful excitement by shading the tone with delicacy and soared over the ensemble with ease in that rousing ode to love.  While in Act 3, the regret and pain in the tone was palpable, again through her finding a seemingly limitless palette of colours through the text.  This was a notable role debut for this wonderful artist, and I look forward to seeing her grow even more in the role as time goes on.

Photo ©: Cristiana Andolcetti

Her Ruggero was sung by Dmytro Popov.  Popov ideally incarnated the provincial youth in the big city, both in the relative stiffness of his acting at the start of Act 2, but also through his vocalism – there was a slightly stentorian manner to his singing at first that felt exactly right.  As the act progressed, he found a warmth in the tone, pouring out clarion sound on high.  Again, in Act 3 he lovingly phrased his music so that when the end came, it had even more impact.  As Lisette, Roberta Mameli offered a bright crystalline soprano with an easy top.  Francesco Castoro sang Prunier with a bright, well-focused tenor, while Francesco Verna was an appropriately gruff Rambaldo.  All the remaining roles were cast with strength with a special mention for Elena Bazzo’s eloquent singing of the off-stage solo at the end of Act 2.

Photo ©: Cristiana Andolcetti

There might have been some reservations about the conducting this afternoon, but even these were compensated for by the sheer kaleidoscope of sound produced by the Maggio orchestra.  What was notable about Krief’s staging was that even with the adjustments necessary due to the current situation, it still gave us a compelling journey into the life of a woman who so wanted to love but had to give it all up due to the choices she had previously made.  With a solid cast, and Pérez a glorious Magda, this was, on the whole, a satisfying afternoon in the theatre.

During this period of theatrical closures, crowdfunding support for has been put on hold.  I encourage you to investigate ways of supporting your local companies and artists while houses remain closed.  Both the Patreon and PayPal for the site will resume as soon as theatres open again.

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