The opera's title character ("the swallow" in English) is Magda, a celebrated Paris courtesan. To the perplexity of her friends, Magda is dissatisfied with her life of "ritz and glitz and money and parties and booze," the director explained. Her best pal, the poet Prunier, tries to cheer her up with a fun-filled evening that includes palmistry and a puppet show. She surprises him by using the puppets to express her wish for true love and a simpler life.
Into the club walks Ruggero, a naive student from the countryside. By the end of the next act, he and Magda have run off to the south of France together. But when Ruggero proposes marriage, Magda knows she must come clean about her past. Unlike "La Traviata's" Violetta, she concludes on her own that she must give up her lover for the sake of his family's reputation.
"She learns that she's stuck" as a result of past choices, Breault said. "That's the tragedy." He hopes that any audience member who has ever compromised convictions will relate to her remorse.
It isn't all pathos, the director added. There's a comic subplot involving Prunier, Magda's maid Lisette and a borrowed gown. "The comedy in this is very challenging — highly technical, highly timed." There's also dancing, choreographed by Denny Berry, head of the U.'s musical-theater program. Kipper Brothers Puppet Works has constructed puppets for the production. And there are "tunes, tunes, tunes, tunes, tunes," Breault promised, including a quartet sung by Magda, Ruggero, Prunier and Lisette that he called "one of the most beautiful things Puccini ever wrote."
All this in under two hours. "This opera is very compact," Breault said. "It's so dense with beautiful tunes."