Teatro di San Carlo 2020-21 Review: La Rondine
Ailyn Pérez & Michael Fabiano Marvel in Underappreciated Puccini WorkBy Mauricio Villa
(Credit: Luciano Romano)
This review is for the performance on Oct. 16, 2020.
“La Rondine” has been unjustly considered a minor work in the Puccini canon. With a plot that reminds many of “La Traviata,” the three-act work was meant to be an operetta but ended up as a hybrid melodrama, it’s confused stylistic identity, relegating it to rare performances.
The Teatro San Carlo in Naples, presented two concert performances of the neglected work headlined by two operatic powerhouses.
Heart of the Opera
American soprano Ailyn Pérez has one of the best lyrical voices nowadays, with a sweet dark velvet quality, equality throughout her whole register, a strong ringing voice projection, and an astonishing breath technique that enables her to produce magical pianissimi even all throughout her instrument. Her voice and personality matched Magda perfectly.
“Chi il bel sogno di Doreta” was the highlight of her performance and enchanted the audience. It is a difficult aria, with a tessitura of two octaves moving from low C to high C, and leaving the soprano completely exposed as the orchestration is very light. After a few central lines, Pérez attacked “Folle amore” with do with dolcissimo sound, going straight to the first A with a clean pianissimo and suspending the line magically.
On “Ah! mio sogno!” Pérez repeated the pure attack of the first A and used a subtle portamento to reach a mezza voce high C before softening the sound into a miraculous pianissimo.
On her second arietta “Denaro! Nient’altro che denaro” she offered a long display of forte and pianissimo A naturals, with a sonorous high B natural, opting for the oppure ending and a pianissimo A natural in pianissimo she held in a never-ending whisper.
Throughout the quartet, Pérez displayed tremendous versatility in the upper ranging, constantly throwing off high B flats and C naturals without breaking the fluidity of the lines.
Throughout the beginning of Act three, Pérez seemed flirty and amorous, until Ruggero suggests their marriage. At that point, she shifted toward more hesitance and doubt, her singing turning firmer, but still fluid and sweet in many of its phrases. The opera ends with a long-sustained A flat where Pérez did a breath-taking crescendo/diminuedo before ending on a soaring soft note lost in the orchestra – it was just magical.
Tenor Michael Fabiano displayed a fresh sound with an uncommonly big and potent squillo in his role debut as Ruggero. Although the writing in his initial entrance stays in the middle of his voice, Fabiano managed to keep his voice light as well as sonorous as he adapted to the cheerfulness of the Waltz. It is a well written page for the tenor as it gives him time to warm up the voice little by little, rising to A flat and A natural before the heroic attack on the first of two B flats on “Ah! questa e vita;” Fabiano dispatched it with courage and security. When this duet turns into a quartet, the tessitura becomes higher with several B flats, including an amazing sustained B flat on “Viva sempre in te” which Fabiano reached with a wonderful stylistic portamento. He even chose the oppure version of the score in “Ah , le mie virtu” and emitted a high C alongside the soprano. Act two finished with a strong high B natural by the two lovers which Fabiano and Pérez maintained powerfully.
In the third act duet, Fabiano’s interpretation became nearly “verista” with the outburst on “Se t’amo e m’ami” ascending to a thrilling high A natural and some exquisite portamento. While trying to convince Magda about their marriage, Fabiano made a wise use of his mezza voce and legato singing in “dimmi che vuoi seguirmi all amia casa” which could be considered the only aria the tenor has in this opera. Then Fabiano used all of his vocal resources for the final part of the duet when Magda abandons him, dispatching quite a few incredible high As and B flats.
Spanish soprano Ruth Iniesta sang the role of Lisette, who represents joy and youth. Iniesta has a decent voluminous voice but with a marked vibrato that stains the beauty of her timbre. Her strength lies in her ringing upper register, but this role does not go higher than high C, where stridency sets in due to the shaky vibrato. Her personality and stagecraft did not improve matters as she relied on big gestures and cliché movements that ultimately undermined any attempt at character depth.
Italian tenor Marco Ciaponi played the role of Prunier. The writing is very central, even low at moments, with lots of parlato lines, and only a few ascensions to high A and a falsetto high C (as written in the score) which was cut down, so it proved that his ascension to A natural on the line “La donna qui conquista” sounded secure and powerful despite his low and central weak register. Ciaponi’s voice was far too heavy and lyrical to be comfortable in such central writing, and he often sounded small and muffled with occasional moments of strength whenever the score went above G natural. There was instability in the sound which softened tended toward a thin vibrato and flat pitch. His physical interactions on stage were very limited, ultimately leading to the least compelling interpretation of the four major characters.
The participation of Gezim Myshketa, Laurence Meikle, Miriam Artiaco and Sara Rossini as Rambaldo, Crebillon, Yvette, and Bianca was noteworthy.
Conductor Juraj Valcuha led the orchestra of Teatro di San Carlo with brightness, giving true sense to the various waltzes melodies by filling the orchestra with luminous sonority. However, after cutting most of Act two due to the lack of a chorus, it was strange that Valcuha decided to cut nearly half of the duet between Lisette and Prunier in Act three, leaving just a few spare lines between them.
The theatre employed the best social distancing measures that I have seen, with all attendees flanked by empty seats and protective plastic screens. The theater held about 40 percent of its capacity with about 500 tickets sold.
In all this was a worthy performance and a wonderful opportunity to see Fabiano and Pérez at their very best.