Times were, when a serious opera was considered properly staged when the time-and-place coincided with the libretto’s stipulation, and the words and music coincided with the composer’s final view of the work. Consider, now, these three productions by the Los Angeles Opera during its current season: a “Hansel and Gretel” with the moppets at large in New York’s Central Park; a “Rigoletto” set among Hollywood studio execs, with the title character identified as “an agent”; and now, a distortion of Puccini’s “La Rondine” in which Magda, the reformed-prostitute heroine, denounced by her one true lover upon his learning The Awful Truth, no longer faces up sadly but acceptingly  to life’s ironies but instead drowns herself in a convenient nearby ocean. If you want to guess whether the company’s final seasonal offing, Britten’s “Billy Budd” will take place, as proper, on the HMS Indomitable or the Starship Enterprise, you’re on your own.
This redux “Rondine” is the concoction of Marta Domingo, about to assume her place as dynasty den-mother when husband Plácido assumes command of the L.A. Opera in June. The production was first seen at the Bonn Opera in 1995, and moved thence to the Washington Opera, the other outpost in the Domingo domain. In a published statement Marta Domingo avows a certain disquiet about the opera’s ending – which Puccini himself had struggled to achieve, to his ultimate satisfaction, after a couple of sidetracks. Rummaging in Puccini’s discards, she found an earlier ending that does include the scene of denunciation; the suicide, however, is her own gloss, and designer Michael Scott has given her a dandy tidal wave.
Marta’s diggings also turned up a discarded first-act aria for Ruggero, the romantic hero, which she spatchcocked into the performance although it lies out of range of tenor Marcus Haddock, and some scraps of insignificant duet material for Magda and her most recent sugar-daddy. The questions, therefore, are these: at what point in the creation of a performance are the producers exempt from the composer’s final intentions? and does marriage to an eminent tenor/impresario serve to qualify an ambitious spouse (with less than a decade’s directorial experience and no particular identity as a Puccini musicologist) to superimpose herself upon those intentions? Otherwise put, does the Los Angeles Opera, upon the departure of Peter Hemmings on June 1, turn into a mom’n’pop operation for the Domingos?
Marcus Haddock, as noted, had his problems (although he had sung the role in Washington). Carol Vaness has used the L.A. Opera on other occasions to practice taking on romantic Italian roles — for which she is unsuited by both voice and temperament – and did so once again. Emmanuel Villaume’s podium gyrations were great fun to watch, but lent little to the air of dispiritedness that overhung the evening. “La Rondine” may be the three-legged puppy among Puccini’s operas, but its charms can grow warm and lovable under proper treatment. This, alas, it did not receive in Los Angeles this past weekend.

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