glamorous piece of old-fashioned romantic escapism, beautifully staged and
eloquently sung. Rating: * * * *
Forget the cuts, the
eurozone crisis and the prospect of winter: here is a glamorous piece of
old-fashioned romantic escapism, beautifully staged and eloquently sung. It
provides a hugely enjoyable evening, and if it doesn’t quite catch fire, the
shortfall lies not so much in the performance as the opera itself – a
slow-burn melodrama, distantly based on fact and drawn from a play
popularised by Sarah Bernhardt, about a celebrated 18th-century Parisian
actress whose crush on the dashing Count Maurizio is thwarted by her
dastardly rival the Princesse de Bouillon.
Cilea’s score is often
rather lovely. He orchestrates carefully and shares with his southern
Italian compatriot Bellini a gift for long-spun melancholy melody, but the
net effect is a bit too genteel for my low taste. Too many gavottes, to put
it bluntly, and not enough bodice-ripping (Massenet got the balance right in
For Adriana’s first Covent Garden outing for over a century,
Mark Elder is the conductor. He takes the music very seriously, supporting
the singers on a velvety bed of sound and drawing some ravishing string
playing from the orchestra in the prelude to the final act. I just wish he
had driven it more ruthlessly and let rip at the climaxes; at times, it
teetered into preciousness, and this is an opera which needs all the
vulgarity it can get.
David McVicar’s staging is much as one would
have expected from this director. Sumptuously designed in period by Charles
Edwards and Brigitte Reiffenstuel, it literally revolves round the model of
a baroque theatre, a fitting frame for the grandstanding emotions of the
McVicar handles the action with
Zeffirelli-style panache and lets the singers get on with it, unburdened by
further pretentious conceptualising.
The one significant drawback is
an hour of interval, slowing the pace even further.
makes her debut in the title-role. She acts the part of the capricious
charmer with vivacity = her own personality isn’t far away, one suspects =
and looks stunning in some fabulous frocks. Adriana is known as a nice, easy
sing for ageing or challenged prima donnas (no difficult top notes, and a
tame orchestra), so Gheorghiu, in her vocal prime, should have found it a
doddle. But her first aria was bumpy and nervous, and she fudged the end of
the second. Elsewhere, in duet and declamation, she often sang exquisitely.
Maurizio was the marvellous Jonas Kaufmann, who sailed
through, giving an object lesson in legato en route. Michaela
Schuster made a regal Princesse de Bouillon, and Alessandro Corbelli was
very touching as the infatuated impresario Michonnet. I came away feeling
that I had spent three hours sucking on boiled sweets.