Opera Theatre soars with ‘La Rondine’

“La Rondine” means “The Swallow,” and Giacomo Puccini’s romantic opera, redolent with passionate highs and lows, soars with glorious arias and lush melodies.

In its 40th anniversary season, the Opera Theatre wants patrons to enjoy the total experience — both the theatrics and the music -- and they mesh effectively in staging such a doomed romance.

A tale as old as time, “La Rondine” is a sentimental journey into a melodramatic love story, for Magda (a divine Corinne Winters), a beautiful but lonely Parisian courtesan, has a burning desire for love and happiness, but her new life just might be thwarted by her illicit past.

The object of her affection is country boy Ruggero (strapping Anthony Kalil), after breaking off from her “protector” Rambaldo (Matthew Burns), a sturdy bass-baritone in a routine, unsympathetic role.

Oh, that purity bugaboo. In 1917, a woman’s virtue was held to a different standard. Therefore, libretto authors made grand displays of anxiety-riddled females emoting their unfair fate in classic operas, and Giuseppe Adami’s words reflect the social mores of the times.

Sure, the story is tragic, but that’s the way it was, and it makes for a stirring show: A solitary figure, inconsolable about having his hopes dashed, having rebuked the girl of his dreams. A woman can’t escape her shameful secret of being a mistress to a wealthy man, no matter how she disguises herself and yearns for passion.

It’s as ardent as a thick Russian novel and a 1950s soap opera.The English translation is a tad stilted and obviously old-fashioned, but the music is majestic and the performers power through fervently.

Stephen Lord conducts the St. Louis Symphony with gusto, emphasizing the grandiose arrangements people who love Puccini expect.

Soprano Corinne Winters rises to new heights, especially in her breathtaking arias: “Ore dolci e divine,” “Figliuolo tu mi dici,” and “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta?” (but sung in English here).

Making his OTSL debut, tenor Anthony Kalil is both strong and heart-wrenching, and you feel his pain as the duped, naive Ruggero. They both poignantly convey the passions and heartbreak of love, and their duets connect as they demonstrate their stunning range and power.

The secondary story involves Magda’s maid Lisette (sweet-voiced Sydney Mancasola), and she’s memorable as one who dreams of music stardom. She and Prunier the poet (John McVeigh) carry on comically.

“La Rondine” is seldom mounted, with Puccini’s much-lauded “La Boheme,” “Tosca” and “Madame Butterfly” getting all the attention, But it showcases exquisite harmonies and dramatic arcs to keep you involved. This is only OTSL’s second presentation of the show, their first in 1996.

Set designer Alexander Dodge has transported us to a high-society dinner party, a Paris nightclub, and the French Riviera seashore with stylish flourishes.

Director Michael Gieleta has elegantly created a European world where classes and desires collide, heightened by wartime worries.

A special shout-out to Chorus Master Robert Ainsley, for the singers portraying the bourgeosie at Bullier’s were outstanding in the sensational “Toast to Love” number in Act II.

You know you’re not getting a happy ending, but you will have a memorable evening.

“La Rondine”

When: June 18, 20, 24 and 28

Who: Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Where: Loretto-Hilton Center mainstage, 130 Edgar Road, St. Louis

Box Office: 314-961-0644