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The three-act opera La Rondine (The Swallow) was originally commissioned for the Carltheater in Vienna but, owing to the outbreak of the First World War, was only premiered in Monte Carlo in 1917. The libretto was written by Giuseppe Adami based on the German Die Schwalbe by Alfred Maria Willner and Heinz Reichert. Puccini revised the work a number of times, particularly the end of the second act, meaning that there are now three distinct versions. In the original version (1917), Magda leaves Ruggero because she believes that her dubious past does not permit her to marry him. In the second version (1920), her wish to return to the demimonde is what ultimately triggers her actions. In the third version (1921), Ruggero finds out about Magda’s past through an anonymous letter and leaves her. In spite of these differences in the storyline, the music hardly changed at all.
The setting is Paris during the Second Empire. We find Magda in the house of her wealthy patron Rambaldo, conversing with friends about love. One of the party reads her palm and tells her that one day she will fly like a swallow across the sea for love. Ruggero, a young man from the provinces, arrives in Paris for the first time. Magda’s friends suggest that he sample the nightlife in a dance club. Although irked by his conventional notions of eternal love, Magda falls for him. She parts company with her patron in order to live with Ruggero on the Riviera. However, no sooner has Ruggero had obtained consent from his parents to marry Magda, she explains to him about her old life and leaves him.
The opera is most frequently performed in its original version dating from 1917, with the addition of Ruggero’s aria Parigi! È la città dei desideri in the first act. Puccini included this aria in the 2nd edition of 1920, but eliminated it again in the 3rd edition of 1921.