Caballero, conductor Tebar lift FGO’s uneven “Rondine”

By David Fleshler

Elizabeth Caballero as Magda and Bruno Ribeiro as Ruggero in Florida Grand Opera's "La Rondine." Photo: Gaston de Cardenas

For many South Florida opera fans who may have attended a dozen performances of Rigoletto, Carmen and La Traviata, Saturday night offered the first opportunity ever to attend a Miami production of Puccini’s La Rondine.

This 1917 work, which tells the story of a kept Parisian woman’s rediscovery of romance, has long dwelt in the operatic attic as the weakest of the Italian master’s mature works. But despite an insubstantial plot, a flimsy last act and a tone that wavers uneasily between comedy and drama, Rondine is rich in affecting vocal and orchestral music, and Florida Grand Opera deserves credit for passing up the easy ticket sales of the more popular Puccini works to present this rarity.

The performance at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts was highly uneven, marred by a weak male lead and stiff stage direction. But Elizabeth Caballero, the popular Miami soprano, gave a worthy performance in the leading role of Magda, and most impressive of all was the playing of the orchestra under Ramon Tebar, making his debut as FGO music director.

While excellent performances by the FGO orchestra have become routine, this performance under the young Spanish conductor stood out for the delicacy and transparency of the textures he drew from the ensemble. La Rondine has many great passages of classic Puccini writing, and in these moments the orchestra under Tebar shone — the ascending strings and winds as Magda receives a gift of pearls, the delicate violin passage as she considers returning to the nightclub where she first found love, and the sighing strings as Ruggero enters with a letter from his mother.

Caballero gave the best vocal performance of the evening, although there were some shaky moments. In Act 1, the opera’s most celebrated aria, Chi il bel sogno di Doretta, was marred by effortful high notes that should float softly from the stage. But through the rest of the performance hers was the only first-class voice on stage — aside from Corinne Winters in the less demanding role of Lisette. Caballero brought great warmth and emotion to the role, especially in the final act as she expressed the turmoil going through her mind over whether to tell Ruggero about her past. She read the letter from his mother in a voice full of luster and humanity and brought desperate determination as she tells Ruggero she must leave him.

As Ruggero, the newcomer to Paris with whom Magda falls in love, the young Portuguese tenor Bruno Ribeiro just was not up to the vocal qualities of a romantic leading man. His voice was drab and colorless, with a weak top and he offered none of the urgency, intensity or warmth that could make a plausible operatic hero. His aria Parigi è la città dei desideri, an ode to the thrills of arriving in the big city, was tonally unsteady and lacked any sense of the excitement the words were supposed to convey.

Corinne Winters as Lisette and Daniel Shirley as Prunier in "La Rondine." Photo: Gaston de Cardenas

The role of Magda’s maid Lisette is a stock one in opera — the pert working-class woman whose energy and street smarts allow her to outmaneuver her social superiors. The American soprano Corinne Winters, the 2010 first-place winner in the Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition, made the most of the role, bringing a dynamism to the part that stood out amid the upper-class languor that prevailed on stage. When she stormed into the conversation to defend her hometown of Paris or described the evening in which she bombed as an actress, she displayed a vocal power and finesse that made you wish this was a larger role.

The scenery from New York City Opera updates the setting from the mid-19th century to the 1920s, which meant flapper hairstyles and sleek Art Deco touches in the Parisian salon in which the opera opens. The update had the effect of making the sentiments of the final scene, in which Ruggero receives permission from his mother to marry and Magda turns him down because she’s no longer “pure,” seem particularly creaky and anachronistic.

But in general the update worked, with particularly effective third act scenery for the French Riviera, dominated by a blue Mediterranean sky. The women’s dresses may well have been authentic for the period, but these drab, faded-looking draperies were some of the least flattering female costumes you’re going to see outside of Wagner. Apart from Winters’ live-wire Lisette, none of the acting rose above the second rate, with affected gestures that just didn’t work for a setting of Parisian sophisticates.

As the poet Prunier, the tenor Daniel Shirley brought a small but attractive voice to the role, one that would have made a more convincing Ruggero than the one who actually had that job. As Rambaldo, Magda’s wealthy lover, Craig Colclough displayed a sonorous bass-baritone, grumbling anti-romantic sentiments as he read the newspaper or lumbered around the stage. Magda’s three cynical friends Yvette, Bianca and Suzy, were winningly portrayed by Brittany Ann Reneé Robinson, Lacy Sauter and Courtney McKeown, all strong singers whose voices blended well with the superb work in the orchestra.

Although this wasn’t FGO’s finest overall production in the past couple years, the company deserves the gratitude of opera fans for allowing them to hear an undeservedly neglected work. La Rondine is Tebar’s only opera this season, but next season he is expected to lead at least two. It appears that for the first time in many years, FGO’s musical direction is in good hands.

Florida Grand Opera’s production of Puccini’s La Rondine runs through Feb. 4 at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.; 800-741-1010

Posted in Performances

15 Responses to “Caballero, conductor Tebar lift FGO’s uneven “Rondine””

  1. Posted Jan 22, 2012 at 3:30 pm by Alberto Mederos

    Agree 100 % and then some.
    The costumes were a disaster.
    The can can dancers not only were bad dancers they were dressed like clowns, and, Elizabeth Caballero needed some coaching on how to stand graciously on stage. Her costumes were totally unflattering too.

  2. Posted Jan 22, 2012 at 10:46 pm by Stephanie

    I couldn’t disagree more, I was underwhelmed and disappointed by that entire performance. As sad as I am to say it, I was happy when it ended. The best part of the entire night was the overture. As for Caballero’s rendition of  Ch’il bel sogno di Doretta, it was okay at best. She is past her prime, if she ever had one. The dancers were atrocious!!! The only thing worth watching was Corrine Winters, who was absolutely delightful! Frankly she should have played Magda, and would have if the FGO wasn’t so afraid of not casting one of the “Miami Greats” (Caballero) who are not all that great.

    Nevertheless, I am very excited for Rigoletto next week.

  3. Posted Jan 23, 2012 at 9:09 am by Massimo Stella

    This review is definitely NOT reliable! I was there and so were many other people i know. Any listener used to top quality performances around the world, such as I am, agrees that Caballero is not a “great singer” but simply a singer who’s able to get to the end of a show, like many others do! On the contrary, Ribeiro’s performance was quite outstanding, starting from the vocal point of view. Brilliant, secure and virile high notes. A voice which offered a great blend of colours. Finally a voice which filled the house. This review is an offense to FLORIDA GRAND OPERA

  4. Posted Jan 23, 2012 at 1:20 pm by Evelyn

    I really enjoyed it. it WAS kind of like a small, regional house as far as quality of vocal technique. Cabalero has a really nice sound, but to my ears, kinda square…i cant explain it….maybe not smooth? high notes are not my favorite, either. she would be good in a Liu or something similar, i think. the other girl i enjoyed. something fresh about her. people dont be so mean. everyone has feelings. overall the Magda was ok.

  5. Posted Jan 23, 2012 at 1:34 pm by evelyn

    Oh i i forgot to say the orchestra was very intune. very nice.

  6. Posted Jan 23, 2012 at 4:25 pm by Kimbelry Delastre

    I could not agree more in reference to the costumes they looked really bad on stage. The singers looked like a caricatures.
    The orchestra was outstanding. My congratulations to Maestro Tebar. His command of the music and orchestra was pitch-perfect!!

  7. Posted Jan 23, 2012 at 4:36 pm by Juan

    I have yet to see La Rondine (my tickets are for the 4th), but judging from some of the comments I can see why FGO is so “cautious” with producing any work that is not overly familiar. La Rondine has an overture?? Please I don’t recall ANY Puccini opera that has an overture! Orchestra was in tune? Unless you are a music major how would you know? I guess these are the reasons why Miami opera goers must be subjected to countless productions of Rigoletto, Traviata, Boheme, and Barbiere.

  8. Posted Jan 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm by Marc

    Whaaaattttttt??? this review is obscene!!! Totaly unaccepable!!! BRUNO RIBEIRO is the biggest and one of the most beautiful voices which came to FGO! He is absolutely fabulous!
    This review is unreliable!

  9. Posted Jan 27, 2012 at 12:48 pm by Greg

    Good music

  10. Posted Jan 30, 2012 at 10:54 pm by Anthony

    What is with all these horrible comments on Caballero? I was there on
    Sunday & she did a beautiful performance. I truly enjoyed myself. A wonderful production.

  11. Posted Feb 01, 2012 at 2:15 pm by Marisel

    I have not seen this production. However, I have seen Liz Caballero in the role of Liu and she has a truly remarkable and beautiful voice so I can’t imagine how she would not be great in anything she does. And past her prime??? Ridiculous comment!

  12. Posted Feb 02, 2012 at 12:24 am by DONALD

    This was not a “great” opera, but it was a credible performance and a very entertaining evening. The critic obviously did not get the dance hall atmosphere with dancers at the level of what would be expected at such a place and costumes as well. As for the cast, they did very well at least on February 1st.

  13. Posted Feb 02, 2012 at 5:28 pm by Sergio

    Totally off-the-mark comments about Bruno Ribeiro as Ruggero, who sang with a firm clear voice and had quite big high notes.

  14. Posted Feb 05, 2012 at 5:04 pm by Benjamin

    David was spot on in his review.

    Conductor Roman Tebar was the highlight of the show. Caballero was satisfactory, but by no means thrilling as Magda. Bruno Riberio’s voice has potential, but is not sufficiently mature to be ready for a main stage assignment. When the lovers sang their duet in Act II against the backdrop of the dancers, there was insufficient vocal interest to hold one’s attention on the singers. Corrine Winters, Lissette, was the most interesting character on stage, but the voice didn’t live up to the character. The comprimario roles made little vocal impact. The directing of last week’s Rigoletto showed up the deficiencies of the hand behind Rondine. Acting was frequently wooden and unconvincing.

    It was great that FGO scheduled this piece. The music is tuneful and was well played, a much needed improvement over the work of past seasons. We should be well served as Tebar settles into his music director duties. With a more substantial cast and direction, the audience would have come away with a stronger attraction to this most neglected of Puccini’s oeuvre. All in all, I enjoyed hearing this wonderful score. Worth the effort to hear.

  15. Posted Feb 07, 2012 at 4:26 pm by Jeremy

    Maestro Tebar was the star of La Rondine, his detailed work with the orchestra was a delight. I hope to hear this young conductor more in the coming years. Bravo FGO for its new Musical Director!

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Sun Jan 22, 2012
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