Monday, November 26, 2007

Sex in Another City

Critical as I have been about Wikipedia, I think that anyone planning to see the final performance of La Rondine at the San Francisco Opera this Thursday will probably benefit from the back-story on the Wikipedia page for that opera:

In October 1913, the directors of Vienna's Carltheater asked Puccini to compose an operetta. After confirming that it could take the form of a through-composed comic opera "like Rosenkavalier but more amusing and more organic," he agreed. For two years, the work proceeded slowly. Because of the outbreak of World War I, the contract was revised, the Viennese management released its rights to the opera’s première, and the neutral territory of Monte Carlo was selected for the opening.

In Italy Puccini tried to sell the rights to his editor Giulio Ricordi but he refused to buy them. Ricordi's rival, Sonzogno, did not think twice when he got the chance to finally get the rights to an opera by Italy's most famous living composer, but despite the artistic value of the score, La rondine was, through the years, one of Puccini's least successful operas.

La rondine shares some resemblance to Verdi's La traviata and one critic called it "the poor man's La traviata".

The Traviata connection is definitely there in this story of a demi-mondaine and the young man smitten by here; but the Rosenkavalier connection is also there since, ultimately, this is an opera about letting go, rather than dying, of love. By all rights La Bohème should be added to the mix, except that this time the focus is on "how the other half lives." I suppose the Carltheater management figured that Rosenkavalier was not playing well with the masses, but Puccini did not exactly have a reputation for comic opera when they approached him. As to whether or not he could be "organic," my personal feeling is that he hit his peak on that score with Tosca, after which it ceased to occupy him as a priority.

So "one of Puccini's least successful operas" has come to San Francisco by way of Covent Garden and the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, most likely as a vehicle for Angela Gheorghiu, who recorded it with her husband, Roberto Alagna, in 1997. Comparisons to other operas aside, the best way to treat this may be as an extended (to two-and-a-quarter hours) episode of Sex in the City (just as I have always felt that Art was, more than anything else, a ninety-minute episode of Seinfeld, whatever the cultural background of its author may have been). That extension is definitely longer than anything Candace Bushnell could sustain; and I rather wish that conductor Ion Marin had brought a better sense of pace to the timing of the three acts, more along the lines of what Massimo Zanetti had brought to Macbeth. San Francisco had to wait for quite some time for Gheorghiu to grace us with her presence. I just wish that, for all that waiting, we could have enjoyed something more "organic," as the Carltheater management put it.

No comments: