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Opera: Puccini's 'La Rondine' worth another look, says U. of U. opera director

Published April 16, 2017 6:56 pm

Opera • Though lesser-known than "La Traviata," it's no less heart-wrenching, according to director Robert Breault.
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"La Rondine" isn't one of Puccini's best-known hits. If you've thought about it at all, chances are you've thought of it as a lower-stakes cousin to "La Traviata."

Robert Breault is determined to change your mind.

"People have disparaged this opera and I don't know why," said Breault, director of opera studies at the University of Utah. "Just because it's not 'Traviata'? Let it be itself." The fact that no one dies in "La Rondine" doesn't make its denouement any less heart-wrenching, he said.

Breault, a tenor, has sung in or directed five productions of "La Rondine." This week, he'll direct the U. of U. Lyric Opera Ensemble in a production that sets the opera on the literal eve of World War I. It's the first time he's directed a mainstage show at the U. since 1994.

The opera's title character ("the swallow" in English) is Magda, a celebrated Paris courtesan. To the perplexity of her friends, Magda is dissatisfied with her life of "ritz and glitz and money and parties and booze," the director explained. Her best pal, the poet Prunier, tries to cheer her up with a fun-filled evening that includes palmistry and a puppet show. She surprises him by using the puppets to express her wish for true love and a simpler life.

Into the club walks Ruggero, a naive student from the countryside. By the end of the next act, he and Magda have run off to the south of France together. But when Ruggero proposes marriage, Magda knows she must come clean about her past. Unlike "La Traviata's" Violetta, she concludes on her own that she must give up her lover for the sake of his family's reputation.

"She learns that she's stuck" as a result of past choices, Breault said. "That's the tragedy." He hopes that any audience member who has ever compromised convictions will relate to her remorse.

It isn't all pathos, the director added. There's a comic subplot involving Prunier, Magda's maid Lisette and a borrowed gown. "The comedy in this is very challenging — highly technical, highly timed." There's also dancing, choreographed by Denny Berry, head of the U.'s musical-theater program. Kipper Brothers Puppet Works has constructed puppets for the production. And there are "tunes, tunes, tunes, tunes, tunes," Breault promised, including a quartet sung by Magda, Ruggero, Prunier and Lisette that he called "one of the most beautiful things Puccini ever wrote."

All this in under two hours. "This opera is very compact," Breault said. "It's so dense with beautiful tunes." —

I'll fly away

The University of Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble presents Puccini's "La Rondine." The opera is sung in Italian, with English supertitles by Paul Dorgan. Robert Baldwin conducts the Utah Philharmonia, with stage direction by Robert Breault.

When • Friday and Saturday, April 21-22, 7:30 p.m.

Where • Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City

In a nutshell • Dissatisfied with her life as a wealthy Paris courtesan, Magda is instantly drawn to the pure-hearted student Ruggero. Can their love last?

Tickets • $20; $10 for youth and non-U. students with ID; free for U. students with ID; tickets.utah.edu






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