La Rondine (The Swallow) is the 8th of Puccini’s 12 operas. It is the least performed of his mature works. It was commissioned in 1913 by Vienna’s Carltheater. They wanted a lighter and more entertaining opera in the style of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. The result was more in the style of Lehar with touches of La Traviata and another Strauss’s Die Fledermaus mixed in.
The opera was not finished until 1916 when Austria and Italy were at war. Therefore, the premiere was given in neutral territory – Monaco at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo in March of 1917. Puccini fiddled with the opera never deciding on a definitive version – there are three, two with two different endings.
Puccini, even on a day off, was going to compose an opera with a lot of beautiful and interesting music. The ending to the opera’s second act is exceptionally well done. Magda goes to Bullier’s – a Parisian cabaret. Her maid Lisette also shows up. She is convinced by her escort Prunier that Magda is someone else. Ruggero arrives and doesn’t recognize Magda when she sits at his table. She tells him her name is Paulette. Everyone was together in the first act, so either there’s an outbreak of river blindness or Bullier’s is very dimly lit. The two couples sing a toast to love.
Rambaldo ( the man who is keeping Magda) also turns up. He has no trouble recognizing her. He asks her to leave, but she want to remain with Ruggero – who has left the table to go to the men’s room and doesn’t hear Rambaldo’s conversation with his new inamorata. They (“Paulette” and Ruggero) have fallen in love (despite the poor visibility) and decide to be together, but Magda is worried about deceiving Ruggero about her past and true identity. The act ends with the dawn as the new couple walks towards what Ruggero believes is eternal bliss.
The excerpt below starts just before the great ensemble ‘Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso’ and continues to the end of the act. The scene is pure Puccini genius – both theatrically and musically.