Opera News, February 2012
Ciléa: Adriana Lecouvreur, New York, Carnegie Hall, November 8, 2011
Adriana Lecouvreur
On November 8, Opera Orchestra of New York pretty nearly filled Carnegie Hall for an Adriana Lecouvreur that several onlookers not employed in the industry clearly felt was a Major Event. Scores of agents, publicists and singers also attended, and some were loyally vocal at regular intervals. This listener wondered what they were cheering — the participating star power for its own sake? Cilèa's historical backstage potboiler can come to life beyond the deserts of its three (perhaps four) genuinely catchy (and shamelessly recycled) melodic ideas if a soprano is present with total identification with the vulnerable, rash heroine and the ability to project her plight with belief.

It is not just singing that makes an Adriana: Mirella Freni, surely one of Italy's greatest sopranos of the last half-century, made limited impact in the role at her basically sonorous 1994 Met appearances in the role. That same season, a young Romanian artist named Angela Gheorghiu made her Met debut as Mimì. Gheorghiu, with her knowledge of veristic inflections and her dark-hued lyric voice, has all the gifts (save sheer volume for occasional climaxes) that Adriana's music needs. But her performing style and personal aura have developed since those 1994 Met Bohèmes into a puzzling mixture of floating, disembodied-though-lovely half-voice effusions, twitchily self-conscious stage deportment (constant distracting play of hands, gowns, smiles and posture wedded to strict dependence on a score in a role she's recently performed onstage), plus narcissistic vocal gestures that undermine the direct expression and naïve belief needed to evoke Adriana's love, rage and mortal distress. In Act I, weakness in the lower register further reduced the impact of a performance predicated on artifice and short on actual communicativeness (or interaction with colleagues). The characterization seemed indistinguishable from the one Gheorghiu has brought in recent Met seasons to Donizetti's Adina and Puccini's Magda. As the evening progressed, she offered a few stretches of truly luminous cantilena and firmer tone (if no more variety) in declamatory passages. But even without having experienced such legendary Adrianas as Olivero and Tebaldi, Scotto and Kabaivanska — names that were on many lips during intermission — I found Gheorghiu's performance singularly lacking in artistic truthfulness.

Jonas Kaufmann, with good reason New York's current tenor darling, presented a more compelling case as Maurizio, though his carefully manipulated dynamics — astonishing as they often were, and beautiful as both the Vickers-evoking croonery and the full-cry Corelli-esque squillo climaxes proved to be — bespoke a musically sophisticated self-consciousness somewhat alien to this particular fach. (His utterly breathtaking diminuendo on the Saxon's prince's final, despairing "Morta!" seemed more exhibitionistic than expressive.) But there was a lot to cheer in Kaufmann's traversal of the role. Young Anita Rachvelishvili, fresh from singing the title role in Carmen in Seattle and San Francisco, seemed connected with the Principessa di Bouillon's passions, and her dark, earthy mezzo is a wonder — until she gets to the very markedly still-unresolved top notes, which are neither secure nor reliably on pitch. One hopes her premature catapulting onto international stages will not stand in the way of some technical fine-tuning of her valuable gifts before it's too late.

For me, the performance of the evening was the full-voiced, open-hearted Michonnet of Ambrogio Maestri; the baritone, slimmed down since his last local appearances, made his sympathetic character communicate directly with the audience, and — though his attacks on top notes were sometimes glorious, sometimes woofy — he sounded more like a genuine Verdi baritone than anyone regularly employed in that capacity at Lincoln Center. In the small roles, notable work came from two striking-voiced young artists, mezzo Jennifer Feinstein (her Mlle. Dangeville admirably off-book) and baritone Zachary Nelson (Quinault).

Maestro Alberto Veronesi held things together only adequately in the pit and often dragged behind his singers. The players at his disposal were better than his corralling of them made evident. Once again he showed little compelling musical reason that he should be taking over Eve Queler's valuable and beloved concert-opera franchise.


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