Giacomo Puccini: La rondine

Edited by Ditlev Rindom (2023)

NR 142106

La rondine is a unique work in Puccini’s operatic output. Commissioned by Vienna’s Carltheater in 1914, it eventually premiered in Monte Carlo due to the war on 27th March 1917. The opera is written to a libretto by Giuseppe Adami, with Adami’s libretto itself an adaptation and translation of an operetta libretto by Alfred Maria Willner and Heinz Reichert. Puccini’s finished opera, however, contains no spoken dialogue and is labelled a “commedia lirica”.>

La rondine is unusual, too, in that it was the only opera by Puccini originally published by the Sonzogno firm (rather than Ricordi). One direct consequence of this is that the autograph of La rondine was not preserved in the Ricordi archives and it was for many years considered lost, possibly destroyed in the bombing of the Sonzogno archive during the second world war. Partly for this reason, a critical edition of La rondine has never been undertaken and the opera has held a relatively marginal place in the operatic repertory.

With the extraordinary rediscovery of the autograph of La rondine, however, it has finally been possible to produce a critical edition of the opera which draws on all available sources. These include the autograph itself, sketches, the first editions of the vocal and orchestral scores, the copyist’s score of the first edition of the vocal score (with Puccini’s own corrections), and the second and third editions of the vocal score. The rediscovery of the autograph has enabled a large number of errors and inconsistencies in the published edition to be corrected: both ones caused by a simple misreading of the autograph, and those created by an excessively literal interpretation of the autograph. The result is an edition that finally presents a tidied-up edition of Puccini’s opera, while offering performers and scholars editorial notes detailing all major decisions in the editorial process.

The rediscovery of the autograph has also brought to light a significant number of musical differences between the version of the opera preserved in the autograph, and that which was eventually published. The first edition of the vocal score of La rondine (copies of which are now held in several international libraries, including the British Library in London) does not in fact appear to have been published until several months after the Monte Carlo premiere, around the time of the Italian premiere in Bologna in June 1917, when Puccini also donated several pages of the autograph to the Liceo Musicale (now held at the Museo internazionale e biblioteca della musica di Bologna). The earliest registration dates of the first edition of the orchestral score, copies of which are held in Vienna (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek), New York (New York Public Library), and Washington DC (Library of Congress), are from October 1917. The autograph, by contrast, has a number of different dates noted in the different acts, indicating that Puccini finally completed his work on the autograph version in 1916.

Compared to the first edition, the autograph (now held at the Fondazione Simonetta Puccini per Giacomo Puccini) contains a wide number of differences in the orchestration, vocal lines and text, as well as more large-scale variances. These include an extra verse for Prunier in the Act One aria “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta”; an extra 12 bars in Magda’s aria “Ore dolci e divine”; choral lines in the Act Two orchestral dance at Bullier; the use of offstage tenor (rather than soprano) at the end of Act Two; extra lines for Ruggero in his exchange with Magda at the opening of Act Three; an entirely different distribution of the vocal lines in the Act Three trio between Magda, Prunier and Lisette; and a stronger solo profile for Magda at the end of both Acts Two and Three.

The rediscovery of the autograph has thus also made possible a performing edition of this original, autograph version of the opera, which has now been prepared by the editor for hire. This reveals Puccini’s earliest conception of the complete work and can be considered the first of four different versions of the opera (albeit with an essentially identical dramaturgy to the first edition in its final act). Following the Italian premiere in Bologna in June 1917 and the publication of the score, Puccini was soon dissatisfied and he revised the opera substantially on two separate occasions, producing second and third editions in which the entire dramaturgy of the third act was significantly changed each time. He also made numerous changes elsewhere to the solo vocal and choral parts, including the transformation of the role of Prunier (a tenor in the Monte Carlo premiere) into a baritone in the second edition. This second edition was premiered in Palermo in April 1920 and performed again later that year in Vienna, whereupon Puccini decided to embark on a third and final edition. This final edition never appears to have been performed, and indeed the orchestral scores of both the second and third editions are both unavailable and may well have been destroyed. The changes to the autograph that eventually resulted in the version of the opera preserved in the first edition were most likely made over an extended period, both during and after the rehearsals and performances in Monte Carlo. Yet given Puccini’s rejection of nearly all versions of the opera (except the final, unperformed edition), there are especially compelling reasons for treating each separate iteration of the opera as a legitimate and artistically compelling version of La rondine.

The published critical edition necessarily presents the version of the opera preserved in the first edition, the only existing version of the opera that Puccini authorised for publication. It will however contain a number of appendices from the autograph version – such as the extra verse in Prunier’s Act One aria and the extra bars in Magda’s Act One aria – as well as the aria for Ruggero (“Parigi”) which Puccini composed for the second edition using his earlier song “Morire?”, and which has survived as a “pezzo staccato”. The published critical edition could also be used as a basis for reconstructing the orchestral scores of the second and third editions, by drawing upon the surviving vocal scores (held in the British Library and the Museo teatrale alla Scala in Milan, respectively) and by re-orchestrating missing passages where necessary. These sections, to be orchestrated by carefully following period performance practice and reflecting Puccini’s style, will be made available for hire by the publisher, to those theatres wishing to stage modern performances that follow historically informed “reconstructions.” 

The critical edition will be in two volumes and will include a Preface and a Historical Introduction, as well as an extended critical commentary detailing the most important editorial decisions. Some images of the autograph and sketches may also be included, indicating as they do the extraordinary multiple revisions that Puccini made to the manuscript – including the deletion and reinstatement of the vocal parts in the ending of the Act Two Quartet, one of the opera’s undoubted highlights.