There is a deliciously topical moment in the sensationally lavish new
production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, which opened to a
rapturous reception at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, last week. The
hero, Maurizio, Count of Saxony, takes the eponymous heroine in his arms and
asks: "Will you take my illustrious name?" Swooning, she replies that
together they would be "destined for a throne".
We had wall-to-wall
coverage all week of another couple "destined for a throne", who emerged all
smiles in a blizzard of flash photography to tell the waiting world of their
engagement. Poor Adriana never gets to tell the world anything. Within
minutes of Maurizio's proposal, in the best operatic tradition, she lies
dying, slain by a jealous rival whose choice of murder weapon – poisoned
violets – has to be among the strangest ever devised.
brilliant production of this opera is only the second to be staged at Covent
Garden. The last was in 1906, which seems astonishing because while the plot
is labyrinthine and the music only occasionally truly stunning, the piece
absolutely brims with superb dramatic tension. This is high-octane opera –
massive showpiece follows massive showpiece; every gesture, musical and
theatrical, is exaggerated, every passion heightened, every grief extreme.
Central to the whole piece is a stage within a stage, a vast, fully
operational 18th-century theatre, all pulleys, ropes and deus ex machina. It
dominates the action throughout, sometimes alive with light and colour, or,
as in the final scene, stripped bare to represent the actress Adriana's
renouncement of the greasepaint. Here is the Comédie-Française, where the
heroine (a real-life character; the extraordinary plots mirrors much of her
own story) no longer seems able to recognise the barriers between artifice
It's hard to imagine anyone bettering Angela Gheorghiu
in this part. Her voice, feather-light and creamy yet with a core of steel,
matches the liquid way she moves on stage. She's a natural actress and made
the improbable death scene heartbreakingly believable and her signature aria
"Poveri fiori" simply unforgettable.
Her lover Maurizio may be a hero
of the battlefield but he is eventually won over by the scheming Princesse
de Bouillon (fabulously sung by the mezzo Michaela Schuster) despite a
fantastically tense scene at the start of Act Two where he tells her he
loves another, a scene only matched for sheer histrionics when the princess
discovers the identity of her rival – and all operatic hell breaks loose.
A cloudy-voiced start made me fear for tenor-of-the-moment Jonas
Kaufmann as Maurizio but he was soon up in the stratosphere, declaring his
love for Adriana and in thrilling form in "Il russo Mencikoff".
There is so much to enjoy here: wonderful glimpses backstage in Charles
Edwards's glorious period theatre; fabulous costumes by Brigitte
Reiffenstuel; a terrific parody of a supremely camp 18th-century ballet, and
a truly affecting performance from Alessandro Corbelli as the stage manager,
Michonnet. Mark Elder conducts the Puccini-like score with a theatricality
that binds the whole thing together in a richly satisfying, cohesive whole.
Don't miss it.