Living the dream … Premium14 June 2017 | by Robert Thicknesse
… but not for long
Opera Holland Park, London
Romantic opera has never been accused of too much realism. That function is taken by its cynical cousin, operetta, where startling truths may be whispered: all-night-parties lead to hangovers, for example, or (even more alarmingly) not all love-affairs have to end in tragic early death – sometimes they just end.
Giacomo Puccini’s La Rondine (“The Swallow”) is far from his most popular work, but I adore it. Written on the cusp of the First World War, it is an operetta masquerading as big opera that wonders about the value of dreams and the human cost of following them. You are what you are, it says: you’ve made your choices, don’t go trying to change.
The set-up is remarkably close to that of La Traviata – sex for sale in Second Empire Paris – the sensibility light years away. Poule-de-luxe Magda, plushly kept by her banker Rambaldo, is reminded of long-gone days of innocence when actual love seemed a possibility, picks up a young chap from the provinces, lives the dream, and then, the minute the money runs out and Ruggero starts wittering on about marriage and babies, hurries home (as the swallow returns) to the forgiving Rambaldo and his gazillions.
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