Angel Blue and Speranza Scappucci Elevate the Met’s Somewhat Dated ‘La Rondine’

This revival is notable for several debut performances from Jonathan Tetelmen as Ruggero, Emily Pogorelc as Lisette and Bekhzod Davronov as Prunier.

The cast of an opera performance on the Met Opera stage
Angel Blue as Magda in Puccini’s “La Rondine.” Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Puccini started La Rondine the year before the First World War broke out. By the time he finished in 1916, Italy had not only entered the war but swapped sides. In 1914, Italy was historically allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary but had declared its neutrality. By 1915, Italy joined the Triple Entente with Britain, France, and Russia. La Rondine’s strange mixture of sentiment and cynicism feels of a piece with the larger international context. The opera swaps sides, too, starting as a comedy and then ending, abruptly, as a tragedy—with a weepy breakup instead of a death. Puccini was dissatisfied with the ending; he rewrote it twice in the five years after its premiere in 1917.

Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter

By clicking submit, you agree to our <a rel="nofollow noreferer" href="">terms of service</a> and acknowledge we may use your information to send you emails, product samples, and promotions on this website and other properties. You can opt out anytime.

See all of our newsletters

SEE ALSO: At the de Young, Irving Penn’s Genius Is On Full Display

Nicolas Joël’s 2008 production bypasses the war and sets the action in a series of decadent art-deco rooms, washed in a sea of green, blue and gold. A decade-and-a-half on, the sets are resplendent but feel just a tad dated.  The production feels very Bush-era: there’s a bit of gaudiness of pre-crash wealth culture, a bit of swing-dance revival in the ballet, a bit of clubby sleaze with the disco ball in the bar scene (but historically accurate: the disco ball was patented the same year that this opera premiered!). But in an opera so concerned with money—not just the fantasy of the glamorous “starving” artists that populate La Boheme, but the reality of trying to love without money—the Big Short of it all makes Joël’s production feel like an interesting example of early-aughts opera.

This revival is notable for containing four debut performances, three of whom were in the leading quartet: Jonathan Tetelmen as Ruggero, Emily Pogorelc as Lisette, and Bekhzod Davronov as Prunier. The main cast skewed youthful, in a refreshing change of pace, and that energy was complimented by a parental vibe from the audience. Many arms held bouquets, ready to toss to the singers at the curtain call. All three did well.

Bekhzod Davronov, as Prunier, had the most turbulent debut and left me most curious to hear more from the Uzbekistani tenor.  His voice is on the lighter side for this house, and he often struggled to be heard, especially in the first act. At times, the tenor sounded a tad strained, but when he burst through, we were treated to a buttery, sincere sound, well worth a second listen.

Two singers stand back to back on the Met Opera stage
Bekhzod Davronov as Prunier and Emily Pogorelc as Lisette. Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Adorable soprano Emily Pogorelc revealed herself as a skillful comedienne in the role of Lisette. She scampers on and off stage, striking poses, and nearly levitates with boisterous energy. Her performance was eminently watchable and intentional, even when she veered too far into slapstick. Her voice was slender and sharp-pointed, a silver pin that pierced through over the orchestra. She’s got a fine instrument; one hopes that future performances will allow a bit more warmth and richness to round out her sound.

An opera singer in a suit and vest stands on the Met Opera stage
Jonathan Tetelman as Ruggero. Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Tenor Jonathan Tetelman fared best of all the newcomers.  As Ruggero, he was both dashing and gentle, perfectly bashful and pitiably heartbroken. His voice is consequential but still limber, with a forward-facing buzz that carries his sound far into the house. There is a slight tendency to pop out high notes, but it feels like a youthful tic (and the high notes are absolutely solid).  Tetelman more than makes up for it; his presence is so inviting that I missed him whenever he went offstage.

Angel Blue, whose own Met debut as Mimí was only seven years ago, has graduated now from ingenue to sophisticate. Only she felt fully settled into her role as Magda, and fully comfortable acting on the Met stage. Blue’s plush, plaintive voice and remarkable stage face—radiant, transparent, and mobile—have the unique quality of elevating the characters she plays; the shallow ones receive depth, the severe gain softness, and the naïve take on intelligence. She is a perfect fit for Magda in this regard and did much to reconcile the character’s emotional whiplash. Her “Chi bel sogno di Doretta” was, surprisingly, not the high point of Blue’s night vocally. While the first aria was capable, her second aria took fuller advantage of her ability to move from cozy depths to floaty highs.

Speranza Scappucci kept everything humming; she takes a clear approach to Puccini that makes his score sound more limpid than usual, both the dance rhythms and the marvelous aureoles of strings and harp, felt focused and vivid. She moved with vigor. How couldn’t she? The score is wonderful; its generosity is the strongest counterargument to the libretto’s pessimism.

Angel Blue and Speranza Scappucci Elevate the Met’s Somewhat Dated ‘La Rondine’