Puccini: La Rondine, ROH, London November 2004
This was a feel-good evening, and not just because La rondine is one of Puccini's least manipulative and morbid works. After all, Madga's break-up with Ruggero can still be very upsetting. Everything depends on Magda-the 'swallow' of the title-and this performance truly belonged to the young American soprano Katie van Kooten, who was making a heart warming debut both in the role and with the Royal Opera. What a way to start: her first aria, 'Chi il bel sogna di Doretta', is tricky, yet van Kooten (who has just joined the ROH's Young Artists Programme) was assured right from her entrance, combining spirited stage presence with plenty of tonal body and bloom. Her timbre is distinctive, derived from a fast yet unobtrusive vibrato, and her soft singing on the high notes exquisite. She was well matched by the Ruggero of Jonas Kaufmann, whose burnished tenor sounded equally fresh, except perhaps for some strain at climaxes. Puccini's own nostalgia for Paris-and, by extension, the success he enjoyed with Bohème-comes through strongly in this seductive piece, something captured equally here in Nicolas Joel's production and Emmanuel Villaume's conducting.

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