Flutes trill from the pit during rehearsal for “La Rondine,” where three women in bright, strapless twenties-style dresses are trying to express to main character Magda how enviable her life is. But Magda, in a shining baby blue dress, isn’t convinced.
Rising from her chair, she walks to the middle of the stage, the other women forgotten. The set dims to gold-lit sepia shadow, spotlight shining on her, as she sings about lost love.
IU Jacobs School of Music Opera Theater will present “La Rondine” at 7:30 p.m. on March 4-5 and 10-11 at the Musical Arts Center. The show will also be streamed at 7:30 p.m. on March 4-5 on IUMusicLive! Tickets for the MAC show start at $10 for students and $16 for others.
The piece was written and will be performed in Italian, but translations will be displayed on a screen above the stage.
“La Rondine,” written by Giacomo Puccini in 1917, follows Parisian courtesan Magda who, after meeting the handsome and naive Ruggero, disguises herself to meet him. Under the pseudonym “Paulette,” Magda grows closer to Ruggero, but she ultimately returns home alone.
“I’m always looking to crush people’s perceptions of opera and to make it really apparent that it’s a viable art form,” Director Crystal Manich said.
IU’s production is a period piece set around the time the show was written. Manich said the show is forward-thinking for its time period because it centers around a female character with agency.
Manich said she’d wanted to work on a production at IU for a long time before she was asked to direct “La Rondine.” Whenever she’s invited to work with students, she said, her goal is to be able to give them something unique to her directorial experience they can use in the future.
The show is double-casted, meaning two actors alternate playing a character. One of the actors playing Magda is Tiffany Choe, an IU vocal performance student working towards a performer’s diploma. Choe said Magda is a character who longs for love and actively goes looking for it but ultimately realizes that love can’t happen because of who she is.
“She really propels everything that happens in the story and has the power to make those decisions,” Choe said. “You really don’t see that much in opera.”
The role of Magda is also challenging vocally, Choe said. The character leaves the stage for about six total minutes over the course of two and a half hours. Choe has built up her stamina for the role by practicing with a coach every day, and she said she’s been preparing for the role since October.
Yuntong Han, an IU master's student in vocal performance who plays Ruggero in one cast, agrees that Puccini’s music can be challenging. The vocal range changes from middle-range to extremely high, and Han said the role requires a flexible but powerful voice.
It’s not difficult for Han to get into character as Ruggero, he said. He describes the character as pure, innocent and intense, traits he said aren’t far from his real life. The music, which he described as feeling like background music in a film, helps as well, he said.
When Magda is meeting Ruggero, she goes by a false name. Han said this is significant. Like Ruggero, he feels the audience may not know the full picture.
“I fall in love with Paulette,” Han said. “Magda, it’s like a nickname, maybe Paulette is her real name. We don’t know.”
Back in rehearsal, Magda retreats back to her chair, lonely among the set’s brocade and chandeliers. The girls hold her hands as she sings into the audience. For her, one question remains, translation broadcast above the stage: “Would it be possible to relive the joy of an hour?”