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The Germanic Invasion: A Close Look at La Rondine’s Origins in Operetta MUSICAL HIGHLIGHT
La Rondine was first conceived as an operetta— a stage play studded with romantic songs—in the style of such Germanspeaking Austrian composers as Johann Strauss II and Franz Lehar. Puccini also envisioned a work in the spirit of the German Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Hints of these northern origins are sprinkled through the opera, starting with the flirtatious banter that begins the evening. The musical form most identified with Germanic operetta is the waltz, and Puccini offers several. Most of Magda’s aria “Ore dolce e divine” is written in waltz time; its musical motif recurs throughout Act I. (Track 21, discussed in the Classroom Activity, The Past is Present, provides a fine example.) Waltzes are the meat of the dance scene at Bullier’s in Act II. Magda and Ruggero’s gentle duet, “Nella dolce carezza,” in 3/4 time, blossoms as it proceeds into a waltz of mounting, Viennese-style intensity. Following a short march in which Magda and Ruggero sing of sweetness and madness, enchantment, and dreams (Track 31), an entirely new waltz begins (Track 32), eventually melting back to the “Nella dolce carezza” theme. The party continues in 3/4 time right up to the fateful order of “two bocks” (Tracks 33–34). Those “bocks” themselves represent German influence: An Italian composer and his librettists could have quenched their characters’ thirsts on wine. Perhaps the most interesting reference comes in Act I. As Prunier describes the kind of refined, elegant, sexy woman who attracts him, he names women from then-famous romances and myths. The last mentioned, Salome, was not only a seductress who beheaded John the Baptist, but also the heroine and namesake of an opera by none other than Richard Strauss. As Prunier sings her name, Puccini honors Strauss with a snatch of melody borrowed from that opera! (Track 35).
Love Train: A Close Look at Ruggero’s Act II “Toast”
Many observers have noted that one difference between La Rondine and other Puccini operas is the absence of “big numbers” at the end of each act. As Act I ends, Magda slips off to Bullier’s. At the close of Act II, she and Ruggero close the restaurant with a love duet. Act III brings the curtain down with Magda’s plaintive cry as she heads off, alone, to an uncertain future. But smack in the middle of the second act, Puccini does deliver a “production number.” It begins with Ruggero’s simple thought of a toast to love, harmonized by Magda (Track 36). Ruggero begins the toast proper, but Magda can’t resist, and after about 45 seconds, she joins him in duet. Lisette and Prunier promptly jump in with their own love song. Even this quartet can’t last long; soon everyone in Bullier’s has joined the fun. Waves and waves of strings and a whole series of crescendos bring the number to a tremendous vocal and orchestral finish (Track 37). Only then does the storyline dare pick up, with Rambaldo’s arrival at Prunier’s.
Who Is “The Swallow”?: A Close Look at Magda’s Alter Ego MUSICAL HIGHLIGHT
“La Rondine” means “the swallow.” Just as Ruggeroshows up for the first time, halfway into Act I, Prunier is reading Magda’s palm in order to tell her fortune. “Fate is unkind to you,” he says. “Perhaps, like the swallow, you will migrate beyond the sea toward a brilliant land of dreams, toward the sun, towards love. And perhaps.” He breaks off his prediction (Track 39). But Magda does not forget it. Toward the end of the act, mustering her courage to go to Bullier’s, she repeats the fortune to herself (Track 40). Notice that she changes the future-tense, second-person verb “migrerete” to the first person “migrerò” (“perhaps, like the swallow, I will migrate.”). Following this reprise, the image of the swallow disappears from La Rondine until the moment when Magda is about to leave Ruggero forever. All at once, she seems to recall Prunier’s metaphor. “You will return to your serene home,” she tells Ruggero in Track 41. “I will again take up my flight and my suffering” (“il mio volo e la mia pena”.) Do you think La Rondine is an appropriate title for this opera? What do you think Puccini meant by the title? What is the metaphor? Ruggero, all but tongue-tied, cries “Amore!”, to which this swallow replies “Say nothing” (“non dir niente”)—“let this pain be mine,” and moves along.
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