Star-Ledger, May 18, 2012
Ronni Reich
Adriana Lecouvreur
The rarely performed “Adriana Lecouvrer” provides the kind of escape into gushing romantic declarations and dramatic confrontations that fans of classics such as Puccini’s “Tosca” and Massenet’s “Manon” should welcome.

Written in 1902 by Francesco Cilea, the opera is full of swooning love scenes, portentous rumblings and bustling gossipy patter. It can be over-the-top in its prettiness and go-to state of grandeur. But there’s a place for that, especially with a cast as strong as the one on this DVD, recorded in 2010 at the Royal Opera House. And Mark Elder leads the orchestra and chorus in a lavish performance.

Set in 1730, the story hinges on a fairly simple love triangle, with Maurizio, count of Saxony, at its center. He is devoted to the title character, an opera singer (both are based on historical figures). Adriana returns his feelings, even when he lies about his identity and maintains an alliance with a former lover to pursue his political ambitions. Maurizio’s other woman turns out to be the powerful Princess de Bouillon — and she isn’t giving up easily.

Secondary characters and misunderstandings complicate things and the women only gradually realize that each is the other’s rival. A bouquet of violets turns out to have fatal significance.

David McVicar’s fusty production amplifies the work’s dated excesses, with sets by Charles Edwards and costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel placing the action on a stage-within-a-stage full of brocade, candelabras, elaborate wigs and voluminous gowns.

Angela Gheorghiu can seem to get more attention for cancellations and diva antics than for her abilities. She certainly has the temperament to play Adriana, who can present herself as humble and sweet but, in a scene where she takes the stage, is nothing if not intense.

Gheorghiu is not the most naturalistic actor and close-ups don’t serve her as well as some of her contemporaries. Still, this recording provides a reminder of how secure and uniquely attractive her singing can be. Her soprano glides effortlessly, its top still silvery, over the oft-excerpted arias “Io son l’umile ancella” and “Poveri fiori.” There’s a real core even in much of her soft singing, and the recording flatters her lower register.

As Maurizio, Jonas Kaufmann has the ideal chiaroscuro sound to portray both poet and warrior. It’s great to hear his robust tenor at full force over moderate accompaniment (as compared with his recent Wagner outings at the Met) as he boasts of his military conquests. When his singing is this focused and he doesn’t resort to crooning, he calls to mind Plácido Domingo.

Olga Borodina makes for an imperious princess and as Michonnet, the stage manager who never confesses to loving Adriana in a more than fatherly way, veteran baritone Alessandro Corbelli employs luster and dignity.

“Adriana” may not quite live up to the more famous operas of its time, but this recording serves as a reminder of its particular charms.

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