The Flight of the Swallow


Would the third time be the charm? Late in his distinguished career composer Giacomo Puccini had a particularly nettlesome project on his hands—his opera La Rondine. The title means “the swallow” and this one was having a hard time getting off the ground.

After the opera’s favorable 1917 debut in Monte Carlo, its audiences had been polite at best, Puccini didn’t like the way it was being performed, and the critics didn’t like the way it was written. It seemed that there wasn’t much left to work with but Puccini kept doggedly at it. After a lackluster performance in Vienna in October 1920 Puccini wrote to a friend:

“I’m going to rewrite La Rondine for the third time! I don’t particularly like the second edition. I prefer the first, the one that was performed in Monte Carlo. But the third is going to be the first one with changes in the libretto.”

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Puccini had referred to the libretto as “vapid,” but the librettist responded that he had been working under difficult conditions—the disruptive environment of World War I, which had made it impossible for the librettist to keep in touch with Puccini regarding the development of the opera. He suggested that Puccini go back to the original version of the opera and touch that up rather than trying to revamp the work completely.

Eventually Puccini did just that, returning to the 1917 version, which he had always liked best of the three anyway. His decision was nudged along by the expense of engraving a third version—an expense during times of tight money in postwar Italy.

He may also have realized that the problems with La rondine had mostly to do with the politics of his critics and the fact that an opera set in the genteel 19th century was at odds with populard tastes during the burgeoning jazz age.

In the case of La rondine the first time had been the charm.