Review: Jonathan Tetelman Arrives at the Met in ‘La Rondine’

Review: Jonathan Tetelman Arrives at the Met in ‘La Rondine’

The revival of Nicolas Joël’s Art Deco-inspired production of Puccini’s “La Rondine” at the Metropolitan Opera highlights a quality that Puccini is not necessarily known for: restraint.

In his headline-making debut, the Chilean-born American singer Jonathan Tetelman, who has a Deutsche Grammophon recording contract and the potential to become the house’s next major Italian-opera tenor, didn’t necessarily arrive with a splash.

His performance had the careful craft of an Olympic diver who breaks the water’s surface without generating ripples. His second assignment this month is another Puccini work, “Madama Butterfly,” and in a show of faith from the company, he will star in high-definition simulcasts of both operas (“La Rondine” on April 20 and “Madama Butterfly” on May 11).

Tall and willowy, Tetelman sang in a performance of “La Rondine” on Tuesday, his third show in the run, with a hyper-focused, brightly resonant voice that conveyed the sunny ping of an Italianate instrument. As Ruggero, he traced fastidious lines through the full length of Puccini’s lavish melodies, holding them taut before releasing them, and artfully negotiated his registers.

His approach yields beautiful results in recordings, balancing ardor and sensitivity in a voice of impressive size, but in a live setting, it feels overly controlled. There’s a lean quality to his timbre that renders climaxes loud rather than thrilling. His somewhat studied performance affirms the admirable seriousness with which he approaches operatic art, and it will be exciting to hear him once he figures out how to conceal the artifice required to make it.

“La Rondine” was originally conceived as an operetta, and it retains the trappings of one, with waltzes, toasts, snatches of spoken dialogue and a maid-in-disguise. Puccini’s sumptuous musical DNA is so dominant, though, that it never fails to sound like his operas. In some ways, it is a poor man’s — or more precisely, a rich man’s — “La Bohème.” Set in Paris, with two couples (one serious, the other comical), “La Rondine” trades the earlier opera’s tear-jerking story of young love troubled by poverty for one of young love troubled by wealth.

Magda, the kept woman, can be portrayed as a jaded demimondaine, an elegant sophisticate or a constrained young lover yearning to break free. At the Met, the soprano Angel Blue didn’t choose any of those; she was a likable presence that tested the dramatic limits of pleasantness. With her warm smile, diffuse middle register and tremulous phrase endings, she was a bashful heroine. Even at her best, when she catapulted her voice into the auditorium for pealing high notes, she seemed to do so reluctantly.

In the pit, the conductor Speranza Scappucci, who made her Met debut in 2022 with a dynamic “Rigoletto,” luxuriated in Puccini’s score. She tends to faithfully render a composer’s style, but without consistently connecting it to the action. With “La Rondine,” she found fleeting moments of perfumed languor and painted in broad, bold colors. At slow tempos, the orchestra could turn soupy and directionless; at fast ones, it danced briskly but gracelessly.

Emily Pogorelc (Lisette) and Bekhzod Davronov (Prunier), both making Met debuts, were an endearing odd couple. Pogorelc’s assertive maid had a brightly cutting sound and a spunky point of view, and Davronov’s poet wore his self-indulgence with the light touch of someone who doesn’t feel the need to try hard at anything. Alfred Walker, as Magda’s patron, Rambaldo, was dignified and unbothered in the face of her caprice.

In Act III, Blue and Tetelman began to overcome the restraint that straitjacketed their performances, allowing Magda’s and Ruggero’s heightened feelings to color their voices. Blue’s guilt-stricken despair and Tetelman’s dusky hopes suddenly flushed the cheeks of their characters, bringing them to life just as their love affair was coming to an end.

La Rondine

Through April 20 at the Metropolitan Opera, Manhattan; metopera.org.

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