Puccini’s La rondine (“the swallow”), which premiered in 1917, finds the composer of Tosca and Turandot on his lightest ground ever. Though it ends with a bittersweet parting of lovers, he intended it to be a champagne (or maybe prosecco) kind of evening: in tone virtually an operetta on the order of Franz Leh‡r’s worldwide box-office smash, The Merry Widow; in melody as hopelessly hummable and unconquerable as the later Les Miz.
Rondine ultimately didn’t attain that grade, but remains a first-class “date opera,” romantic and relatively short. Among much melody and charm, Puccini supplied two great numbers: a ravishing song for the heroine, Magda (the titular restless-courtesan-who-wants-to-be-the-girl-next-door, doomed never to alight for long), and an incredible “applause machine” lovers’ quartet that arrives after Magda—disguised as a simple girl—meets fresh-from-the-provinces Mr. Wonderful (Ruggero) in a Paris café.
The 2008 Met production offers gorgeous sets and costumes for the Parisian and Riviera settings; its positive reception was clouded by a Magda lost in narcissism (Angela Gheorghiu) and a Ruggero (Roberto Alagna) about as shy and unworldly as A-Rod. This year’s team should mark a definite upgrade. Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais, new to New York, is a knockout; the difference between her and her “cover babe” peers is that Opolais has a beautiful, well-trained voice and can really act, acing challenging parts like Butterfly and Rusalka. The charismatic, sensitive tenor Giuseppe Filianoti promises a perfect match as Ruggero.—David Shengold