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La Rondine review at Opera Holland Park – ‘visually arresting’

Stephen Aviss and Elizabeth Llewellyn in Opera Holland Park’s production of La Rondine. Photo: Robert Workman Stephen Aviss and Elizabeth Llewellyn in Opera Holland Park’s production of La Rondine. Photo: Robert Workman
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How best to mark the centenary of Puccini’s La Rondine? It’s an operatic misfit that began life as a frothy operetta, turned more serious, and boasts three versions of its final act.

Major houses have frequently shunned it, but Opera Holland Park confidently launches its season with a new production, its third.

The production shifts the setting from the 19th-century Paris to the same city in the early 1950s, which designer Takis joyfully populates with eye-catching tableaus. Act I’s cocktail party, with its women in flouncy dresses and a set dominated by a shade of turquoise most commonly associated with Fortnum and Mason, is especially striking.

The time shift brings problems, however, not least in the plot assumption that the main character, Magda, is so ashamed of her past as a courtesan that she abandons her dream lover, Ruggero, when he proposes marriage.

As Magda, Elizabeth Llewellyn does her best to overcome this incongruity with several affecting solo scenes, including an expressive Chi il bel Sogno di Doretta (though one wishes for more solidity in the top of her vocal range). As Ruggero, Matteo Lippi is vocally irreproachable but both he and Magda suffer from unwieldy stage direction that finds them awkwardly grappling together in key romantic moments.

There’s lush support from the City of London Sinfonia under Matthew Kofi Waldren and the energetic Opera Holland Park Chorus.

Tereza Gevorgyan as the flighty maid Lisette and Stephen Aviss as her sweetheart and would-be impresario, Prunier, remind us of La Rondine’s romcom roots, but Love, Actually it is not.

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A visually arresting version of Puccini’s tricky romcom opera