PUCCINI La Rondine (Repušić)
Puccini’s wartime attempt to emulate the success of Lehár has always been the dark sheep of his output. But La rondine is arguably his most tender, open-hearted and charming work: eschewing grand passion, it is brief, packed with melody, disarmingly beautiful, and quietly and modestly tragic. There are echoes of La traviata, of course, but it might usefully be understood to have a similar relationship to La bohème as Strauss’s Arabella does to Der Rosenkavalier: an oft-misunderstood, ill-starred return to the site of previous triumph.
This is also reflected in the catalogue, with previous high-profile recordings spread out across the decades and existing primarily as vehicles for their prime donne: Anna Moffo in the 1960s, Kiri Te Kanawa (with Domingo) in the early 1980s. In the following decade, Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna (under the young Antonio Pappano) burst on to the scene with the work on EMI – a set that was crowned Gramophone’s Recording of the Year in 1997.
That recording is quite an act to follow, not least for Elena Moşuc, a Romanian like Gheorghiu. She does a good job in presenting a fully fledged character as Magda, though, especially as matters get more serious in the third act. Earlier on, where a cleanly soaring upper range is at a premium, the voice too often takes on a slightly acid tang and swoops around – a major drawback, alas, in this role.
There’s much to enjoy in the rest of the cast, though, especially from Yosep Kang’s ardent and Italianate Ruggero: to my mind, this elegant tenor can stand comparison with any other performer of the role in the catalogue. Álvaro Zambrano is a suave and sweet-voiced Prunier, though not quite as flexible as Pappano’s William Matteuzzi. Evelin Novak sparkles as Lisette, and the rest of the smaller roles are very well taken.
Ivan Repušic´ does a good job with his new Munich orchestra (he began as their principal conductor at the start of the 2017 18 season). He elicits playing that is idiomatic and seductive, although the big waltz in Act 2 (disc 1, track 14, from 4'25") arguably feels a bit more beer hall than Moulin Rouge, and he can’t match the flexibility and sheer luxuriousness we get from Pappano.
CPO’s sound, too, sounds hard-edged when compared to the sumptuous yield and depth of that earlier recording. And be warned: though the booklet contains the libretto, the only translation we get is into German.