By James Karas
Adriana Lecouvreur has been called perhaps one of the most underrated of operas. Francesco Cilea’s dramatic piece was a big hit in 1902 when it opened with Enrico Caruso. It has not exactly disappeared from the boards since then but it is more often produced as a vehicle for a diva than for its inherent virtues. The current production by the Opéra national de Paris at the Opéra Bastille in Paris should remove any thoughts of it not deserving more frequent staging. And as for a vehicle for a diva, its reputation remains intact.
Marcelo Alvarez and Angela Gheorghiu.Photo © Vincent Pontet
If Adriana is a great vehicle for a diva then it is tough to find too many singers who can surpass Angela Gheorghiu in vocal magnificence, stage presence and physical loveliness. In this opera it is as if diva Gheorghiu is playing herself as Comédie-Française star Adriana.
Adriana Lecouvreur tells a fictionalized story about the real actress Adriana (1692-1730). The plot is not easy to summarize in a few words but it is easy to follow on stage. Adriana is in love with Count Maurizio (Marcelo Alvarez). Stage manager Michonnet (Alessandro Corbelli) is in love with Adriana but he gets nowhere.
There is a Prince (Wojtek Smilek), a Princess (Luciana D’Intino) and an Abbé (Raúl Giménez). Pay attention to the Princess!
Tenor Alvarez sings with passion and conviction. His Maurizio is virile and Alvarez has the vocal chords to give us a splendid representation of Adriana’s lover.
Baritone Alessandro Corbelli is a master of comic roles but in this opera he is a down-to-earth stage manager, getting on in age and reaching for the stars by declaring his love for Adriana. His Michonnet is out of his league as a lover but Corbelli’s resonant voice gave us a well-sung and sympathetic character.
Scene from Adriana Lecouvreur.Photo © Vincent Pontet
Mezzo soprano Luciana D’Intino gets the terrific role of the Princess who is in love with Maurizio and, since he rebuffs her, a very jealous woman. D’Intino has a commanding voice and a delivery that should make you watch your back. She sees her enemy and Adriana gets poisoned flowers from her.
Daniel Oren conducted the orchestra and chorus of the Paris national Opera.
Director David McVicar and Designer Charles Edwards take a pleasantly conservative approach to the opera. Adriana is a backstage drama with scenes in a posh villa and a sumptuous palace as well. The final scene is in Adriana’s house. The first scene backstage at the Comédie-Française starts with a great deal of hubbub with racks of costumes being moved around but we finally settle down in Adriana’s dressing room and the drama gets under way.
The second and third acts are more ostentatious as becomes the status of their owner. The problem I have is with the final act in Adriana’s house. It looks like an unfinished barn (it is the back of the stage of the Comédie-Française). If there was a reason for making her live in such drab surroundings, it escaped me.
Adriana dies in the end and she takes her time about it. But with a satin voice like Gheorghiu’s she is entitled to take as long as she wants.
It is worth noting that this is a coproduction with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Gran Teatre de Liceu, Barcelona, the Vienna Staatsoper and the San Francisco Opera. That’s how many opera companies jump to attention when Angela Gheorghiu is available for a role. The Royal Opera House production was recorded in 2010 and is available on DVD with Jonas Kaufman as Maurizio.
A great night at the opera.