Maestro Jonathan Khuner's La Rondine interview and notes

Program Notes

Giacomo Puccini’s La Rondine seems to be known mostly for being unknown.  His least performed mature work, it’s an obvious anomaly in Puccini’s output, being a rather light-hearted, semi-sweet operetta-style hybrid. For Puccini-lovers and verismo-enthusiasts, who adore full immersion in his abundantly melodic romantic tragedy rife with high drama and passionate arias, this gentler work always has seemed a strange, even weak, departure. Yet it was composed with the same care and skill as the ever-popular Madama Butterfly, for example.

Puccini himself was never quite satisfied with La Rondine, as its story lacks life-or-death stakes. He deemed it a “lyrical comedy” but not an operetta. This means that the score, packed with waltzes and other light, hummable tunes, mostly in popular dance style, should be handled and heard in a completely different light both from Johann Strauss works and from the rest of Puccini’s own canon.  I advise a special approach to this hybrid comedy: expect the voices to be generally telling the story through musical conversation, rather than heightening it through song.

For musical charm and dramatic mastery, listen primarily to the orchestral voice. Enjoy the frequent and savvy subtle changes of mood: speed, timbre, texture, and key.  The scenario flows as an elgant chain of vignettes, within each of which a basic motive or tune is repeated with small inflections. Catchy musical bits return to refer to earlier topics or emotions.  Listen for the unique style of each character, and for how the accompaniment magically winds around the ebb and flow of the script.

Rather than being disappointed at the lack of a Puccinian build-up to medical fatality or suicide, find the charm of the composer’s fine sensitivity. Ascend with him, with wistful lyricism, to a tenderly poignant dénouement. His swallow soars over a variety of operatic landscapes before returning to her stylish nest. The composer himself always was launching into new territory, and in fact never fully returned to rest in the old formulas that produced La Bohème and Tosca. Enjoy his delicious experiment!

Jonathan Khuner

– Music Director