Opera Holland Park has been a great champion of this neglected work, and the new production that opens the west London opera house's annual summer season illustrates to perfection what OHP does best. In its indoors-outdoors space, and with its wide, shallow stage, it can focus with precision on smaller works that deserve a bigger audience, and bring them to life in unexpected ways.
With the birdsong of dusk blending with the orchestration, La Rondine unfurls like an amalgam of opera greats: it has the rough and tumble of La Bohème, the angular orientalism of Madama Butterfly, and the noble self-sacrifice of Puccini's musical forebear Verdi's La Traviata. It hovers between opera and operetta (and Andrew Lloyd Webber can affect this sound world with the wind behind him), and there is no shame in its big set pieces sounding like showstoppers, notably the second act nightclub scene, which features the Opera Holland Park Chorus at its all-singing, all-dancing best.
La Rondine, first performed exactly 100 years ago, opens with a carefree tangle of old friends living it up. Director Martin Lloyd-Evans updates the good life to the New Look era of the Fifties, with big skirts and ducky little hats in takis's design, and beatniks jiving when night falls (Steve Elias's witty shapes most expertly thrown by the 24-hour party chorus).
Socialite Magda lives off her sugar daddy but has a weakness for love, as articulated by passing poet Prunier. Following a quick change out of canary yellow Dior-lite into jeans and a sweater, she finds love, incognito, at the club, in the form of old flame Ruggero. But when a fling turns into talk of babies, she takes wing.
Throw in a knockabout maid, and that's La Rondine pretty much wrapped up, but some of the best things come in small packages. There isn't a note wasted here, and there are some sublime moments, gloriously sung. Elizabeth Llewellyn made a big impression as Mimi in La Bohème at English National Opera in 2010, and went on to sing two important Mozart roles for Opera Holland Park, the Countess in its Le Nozze di Figaro (2011) and Fiordiligi in Così Fan Tutte (2012). Hugely popular with OHP audiences, she is back and grew rapidly as Magda, quickly overcoming a little first-night vibrato.
Her Ruggero, Italian tenor Matteo Lippi, is a genuine rising star – passionate, attractive and musical top-to-toe. Prunier is Briton Stephen Aviss (two smashing tenors in one night; is this a record?), having a lot of fun as consort of the stagestruck maid Lisette (Armenian soprano Tereza Gevorgyan singing and flitting like a linnet).
And yet in many ways the night belongs to conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren, spinning a sparkling City of London Sinfonia like a top. One swallow may not make a summer, but this Rondine has certainly made mine.
|What||La Rondine review, Opera Holland Park|
|Where||Opera Holland Park, Stable Yard, Holland Park, London , W8 6LU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||High Street Kensington (underground)|
01 Jun 17 – 23 Jun 17, eight performances
|Price||£18 - £77|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|