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The Oregonian review: PSU production of 'La Rondine' well captures operetta's bittersweet spirit
Author: James McQuillen
Posted: April 30, 2013

Read the original article in The Oregonian here.

Giacomo Puccini's relatively obscure and uncharacteristically frothy "La Rondine" ("The Swallow") seems tailor-made for PSU Opera's annual spring production. Originally intended as an operetta, it's light both in music and subject matter, and Friday's opener of a five-performance run at Lincoln Hall showed it well-suited to the youthful presences and voices of the student participants.

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(Left) Hannah Consenz and Alan Smith in Portland State University's production of "La Rondine," which opens April 26, 2013.

 Puccini once avowed that he would never have anything to do with operetta, and he was almost true to his word. He accepted a commission from a Viennese theater specifically to compose an operetta but couldn't bring himself fully to adhere to the Viennese formula for popular entertainment, and "La Rondine" became a sort of hybrid between operetta composer Franz Lehar and Puccini's own "La Bohème."

It begins breezily enough, as guests at the salon of the courtesan Magda de Civry opine about romantic love to the strains of Viennese waltzes, and a young visitor to Paris, Ruggero, captures Magda's attention. But what looks and sounds like an operetta at the outset becomes something else: The music is more ambitious, the vocals more challenging and love ultimately sours (this being Puccini, of course, it's the woman's fault). Yet it never completely leaves operetta territory. One of many later revisions has Magda commit suicide, but ending in mere heartbreak, as this version does, is more true to the music -- light comedy becomes light tragedy.

PSU's production, which deftly translates the story to the Paris of the 1950s, captured the right bittersweet spirit with heartfelt lead performances. Tenor Zach Borichevsky, this year's Jeannine B. Cowles Distinguished Professor in Residence, elevated the evening as soon as he opens his mouth; his voice was big, secure and flexible, and his considerable presence was simultaneously commanding and endearing. Alumna soprano Anna Viemeister eased and warmed up considerably at his appearance -- as did the rest of the cast -- and the third act, which featured the two almost exclusively, was dramatically and vocally satisfying.

As Magda's maid, Lisette, Hannah Consenz combined bright vocal appeal with a charming comic presence; cute, coquettish and sassy, she threatened to steal every scene she was in. Alan Smith played well opposite her as her lover, the jaded poet Prunier; his voice was smaller and drier but carefully controlled.

Jon Kretzu's stage direction flowed nicely, neatly containing the action in the party scene of the second act, and conductor Ken Selden kept things similarly fluid in the pit, staying close to the singers and alternating deftly between the light and the lush. Carey Wong's sets were as appealing as ever, making the most of a few dramatic visual gestures to convey the essence of the music.