SARASOTA — La Rondine is lesser Puccini, an effort to marry Viennese operetta to Italian opera that never comes together. But it still has lots of soaring tunes, and Magda, the restless heroine, is thrillingly portrayed by soprano Lina Tetruashvili in the Sarasota Opera production.
An entertaining aspect of La Rondine is how much it owes to other operas. Magda, mistress of a Parisian banker, could be the dreamy sister of Violetta, the courtesan of Verdi's La Traviata, but without the tragedy. Lisette, the maid, is like Adele in the Strauss operetta Die Fledermaus.
Director Michael Unger wittily underscores such borrowing in the Act 2 nightclub scene, which begs comparison with Cafe Momus in Puccini's La Boheme. There's a beret-clad quartet of bohemians reminiscent of Rodolfo, Marcello and gang.
Tetruashvili, from Tbilisi, Georgia, is ravishing in Magda's first-act aria, Chi il bel sogno, in which she pines for madly passionate romance. There is an appealing darkness to her voice that lends complexity to even the most sentimental musings on love, youth and happiness. With jet black hair and a bright smile, she is the very picture of a rich man's ornament, hosting a soiree in her drawing room, the men playing cards and reading the newspaper, the women gossiping with the poet Prunier.
The first act of La Rondine is as musically deft as anything by Puccini. The banter between Magda and Prunier (tenor Andrew Drost) rings true, and the commentary by a female trio (Marianne Cope, Abla Lynn Hamza, Blythe Gaissert) is delightfully flip.
But of the principal characters, only Magda and Prunier are fully developed, and the poet has an unconvincing love affair with Lisette, played to the hammy hilt by Christina Bouras. Magda's banker, Rambaldo (bass-baritone Craig Phillips), is a cipher.
The biggest problem is Magda's young lover Ruggero, who is no match for her. Tenor Ryan MacPherson has the blond good looks of a golf pro, and there seems to be chemistry between him and Tetruashvili, but his singing is thick and labored. Not until Ruggero's Act 3 aria to settling down and having a baby does MacPherson open up a bit.
Conductor David Neely brings out the elegance of the score. Howard Tsvi Kaplan's costumes are suitably stylish. Michael Schweikardt's scenic design has a nice contemporary look.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.