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Review: Opera Holland Park’s La rondine

Elizabeth Llewellyn on song in the title role as Puccini’s ‘swallow’ in a delightful new staging set in early 1950s Paris

16 June, 2017 — By Sebastian Taylor

Elizabeth Llewellyn as Magda and Sophie Dicks as Suzy in Opera Holland Park’s production of La rondine, directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans. Photo: Robert Workman

Opera Holland Park’s new season is off to a flying start with a delightful production of Puccini’s late opera, La rondine.

Most opera houses have tended to fight shy of the piece about a courtesan falling for a younger man. Not OHP. This is its third production reflecting the company’s policy of championing operas by Puccini and his contemporaries.

The new staging relocates the opera from Second Empire Paris in the mid-19th century to Paris in the early 1950s, full of fun and joie de vivre. Giggling women in flouncy dresses are enjoying the onset of postwar liberation by endlessly puffing cigarettes. Men in waistcoats are having just as much fun, swigging beer out of bottles, no doubt very risqué at the time.

It’s all given an air of elegant enjoyment by lots of dance of motifs in Puccini’s music. Not just smoochy, romantic waltz themes littering the score. But, here and there, the tango, foxtrot and the one-step, an early forerunner of jazz jiving and the jitter-bug.

Amidst all the fun, soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn is just terrific as Magda, la rondine or “the swallow” of the title. Indeed, she lifts the opera out of the mundane to heights of graceful elelgance, at times à la Jessye Norman.
Most other soloists make the grade and the chorus is in fine form.

The City of London Sinfonia make the most of Puccini’s score, ably conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren.

There are two more La rondine performances – Friday June 17, and Friday June 23.

Performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni are also under way, five more till Saturday, June 24.
The OHP season continues next month with stagings of Janáček’s Káťa Kabanová, Leoncavallo’s Zaza and Will Todd’s Alice in Wonderland.

Full information and tickets at www.operahollandpark.com

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