La Rondine Synopsis - The Story of Puccini’s 3 Act Opera

The Story of Puccini's 3 Act Opera

Giacomo Puccini's La Rondine directed by Nicolas Joel and conducted by Marco Armiliato
Robbie Jack - Corbis/Getty Images

Giacomo Puccini's opera, La Rondine, takes place in Paris and the French Rivera during the 19th century. This three-act opera premiered on March 27, 1917, at the Grand Theatre de Monte Carlo in Monte Carlo.

La Rondine, ACT 1

Magda hosts a cocktail party in the salon of her Parisian home.  Amidst the guests, Prunier, a poet, explains his theories of love, while Magda’s friends Yvette, Bianca, and Suzy lightheartedly tease him.

 Magda’s maid Lisette interjects and says he knows nothing about love, which upsets Prunier.  Magda sees Prunier is offended, so she orders the maid to leave the room.  Prunier returns to discussing his love theories and says that no one is immune to romantic love.  He proceeds to sing an impromptu song about Doretta, a girl who rejected the love of the King because she believed that true love was more important.  Becoming stumped on the song’s second verse, he seeks help to finish the lyrics.  Magda steps in and sings that Doretta falls in love with a student.  Her guests are thrilled with her little performance, and Magda’s protector, Rambaldo, gives her a pearl necklace.  Lisette returns to the room with an announcement that another guest has arrived - Rambaldo’s younger friend.  Rambaldo tells Lisette to bring him in.  Magda reminisces about her own youth and recounts her working life and the fond memories she spent dancing at Bullier’s.

 It was there she fell in love for the first time.  A handful of Magda’s friends tell Prunier that he should come up with a new song inspired by Magda’s past, but he tells them he prefers songs and poems of more contrary heroines.  He then changes the subject by grabbing the palm of one of the nearby girls and insists that he can read it.

 At the same time, Lisette brings in the guest - his name is Ruggero.  Ruggero and Rambaldo talk to each other while Prunier reads Magda’s palm.  After evaluating her hand, Prunier tells her that she migrates to the sun and true love.  Meanwhile, having never visited Paris, Ruggero asks the others where the best place to stay for the night is, and Lisette recommends Bullier’s.  After the party ends, some people return home while others head out to Bullier’s.  Magda tells Lisette that she’ll be staying in for the evening, but secretly, she’s decided to dress in disguise and go to Bullier’s too.   Madga “retires” to her bedroom for the evening.  Prunier returns to Madga’s house in secret to pick up Lisette and take her out to Bullier’s.  He is captivated by her and flirts with her constantly.  He notices she’s wearing Magda’s hat, so he tells her to take it off before leaving.  Madga exits her bedroom eager for her upcoming adventure and excitedly sings a bit of Prunier’s song as she makes her way out the door.

La Rondine, ACT 2

At the Bullier’s bar, a large crowd of students, artists, and flower girls socialize while singing and dancing.  Magda happily enters and soon catches the attention of a few younger men.

 Before they can start to pester her, she jolts over to an empty seat in a nearby booth and finds Ruggero sitting by himself.  He doesn’t recognize her when she apologizes for sitting at his table.  She tells him that she’ll leave him alone once the boys at the bar turn their attentions away from her.  He asks her to stay and tells her she reminds him of the quiet and reserved girls from his hometown.  After they chat a bit, they get up and dance together joyfully when Prunier and Lisette arrive.  The couple enters the bar arguing over Lisette’s lack of education - Prunier wants her to be more ladylike.  Magda and Ruggero return to their table and Magda recalls her first love.  Ruggero asks for Magda’s name, and with slight hesitation, she answers “Paulette.”  They continue to talk and it becomes evident that their attraction for one another grows with the passing time.

 Prunier and Lisette pass by and Magda signals to Purnier not to give away her identity.  Prunier decides to prove a point and sits down at their table.  He introduces Lisette to “Paulette,” and though confused, Lisette plays along.  They all toast to love before Prunier sees Rambaldo enter.  He asks Lisette to take Ruggero to another room for a little while, so she grabs Ruggero by the arm and takes him away.  Rambaldo approaches Madga and demands her to tell him why she is disguised and behaving so oddly.  She tells him nothing other than what he has already seen.  Rambaldo states that Magda should leave with him, but she tells him she is in love with Ruggero.  She sees sadness sweep across Rambaldo’s face, so she apologizes profusely for causing him any pain.  Rambaldo knows he cannot compete with true love and says he won’t be able to change her mind.  After he leaves, Lisette brings Ruggero back to the table.  He and Magda confess their love for each other and they decide to live a new life together.  Despite their love, Magda worries in the back of her mind that she is lying to him.

La Rondine, ACT 3

For the past few months, Magda and Ruggero have lived a quiet and happy life together on the shores of the French Riviera.  When their extravagant lifestyle begins draining their finances, Ruggero writes a letter to his mother asking for money along with her consent to their upcoming marriage.  Ruggero blissfully imagines his life with Magda and the children they will have.  Magda is moved by his thoughts but worries that his family will disapprove her because of her past working as a courtesan.  She’s afraid that even Ruggero will reject her if he learns of her true identity.  After he leaves the house to take the letter to the post office, she contemplates whether or not to tell him who she really is.  Knocks are heard at the door, and it is Prunier and Lisette.  Lisette, whom Magda had to let go after she moved to the Riviera, took up several jobs, one of which included singing at the music-hall.

 Her performances were abysmal.  When Magda answers the door, she finds the couple bickering and Lisette begs for her old job back.  Magda thinks it over shortly and agrees to hire her again.  Prunier is surprised that Magda is able to be happy outside of Paris.  He tells her that Rambaldo wanted her to know that he’ll accept her on any terms, but Magda refuses to pay him any attention.  Prunier leaves and Lisette begins her normal duties as a maid.  Ruggero returns with a letter he received from his mother.  She writes that if everything Ruggero has said of his fiancé is true, then she has no worries that the couple will live happily together.  She even includes a note that tells Ruggero to give a kiss to Magda on her behalf.  Magda cannot hold the truth in any longer.  She tells him of her past and how it will greatly disappoint his parents.  Afraid they’ll never accept her, she tells him that she must return to Paris.  Ruggero pleads for her to remain with him, but she flees to Paris to the arms of her protector, Rambaldo.  Left in her wake is a devastated Ruggero whose life will never quite be the same.  

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