Zach Borichevsky

Puccini’s Lost Valentine

PSU's "La Rondine" revives an operatic rarity

Anna Viemeister as Magda and Zachary Borichevsky as Ruggero in "La Rondine." Photo: Joe Cantrell

Anna Viemeister as Magda and Zachary Borichevsky as Ruggero in “La Rondine.” Photo: Joe Cantrell

By Angela Allen

Everybody knows his “Madame Butterfly,” “La Boheme” and “Tosca,” but why is Giacomo Puccini’s “La Rondine” (“The Swallow”), which opens Friday at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall, so rarely seen or even heard of?

“[“Rondine” allows] “no easy outs,” says starring tenor Zach Borichevsky. “No one dies or threatens to kill anyone, no deus ex machinas save the day at the end. There is no such intervention of fate: The climax rests on the decisions and conscious actions of the lovers.”

“La Rondine” also defies easy categorization, doubling as opera and operetta, light and dark, comedy and tragedy. Puccini-lovers call it a “lost valentine” to yearning, passion and the puzzle of love where pieces don’t quite fit. Smitten sailors, a snotty Parisian poet, kissy kisses, and lonely café women turn up, but the opera – which Puccini changed several times, even inserting a suicide at the end of one of the revisions – refuses to wallow in sentimentality or succumb to one of those typical over-the-top opera plots.

But “Rondine” does offer other Puccini pleasures. Gloriously melodic music (listen for polka and waltz motifs), somewhat silly drama and libretto, and themes of ill-fated love suit the cast of energetic undergraduates, graduate voice students and its two stars, lyric tenor Borichevsky and soprano Anna Viemeister. Their voices combine in sublime duets – not to mention smooches. One kiss lasts at least a minute, giving the chorus plenty of time to comment on the love fest during its duration.

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