A Royal Opera and Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barlcelona, Vienna State Opera,
San Francisco Opera and L'Opera National de Paris presentation of an opera
in four acts, music by Francisco Cilea, libretto by Arturo Colautti.
Directed by David McVicar. Conductor, Mark Elder.
Angela Gheorghiu Maurizio Jonas Kaufmann Prince of Bouillon Maurizio Muraro
Princess of Bouillon Michaela Schuster Michonnet Alessandro Corbelli With:
Bonaventura Bottone, Sarah Castle, Janis Kelly, Iain Paton, David Soar.
Whatever happened to poisoning? It used to be a drama plot staple in
everything from "The Duchess of Malfi" (poisoned bible), "Tristan und
Isolde" (death potion) and "Lucrezia Borgia" (let me count the ways) to
"Adriana Lecouvreur" (poisoned violets). The absurdity of its plot is the
major reason that Francisco's Cilea's one-hit-wonder has largely vanished
from view. That the Royal Opera's luxuriant revival is so successful is a
tribute to conductor Mark Elder's control of musical values and David
McVicar's staging, which, amazingly, even manages to grant the piece
Unlike Puccini's wafer-thin "La Rondine," another opera
dragged from obscurity as a vehicle for Angela Gheorghiu, "Adriana
Lecouvreur," turns out to have more to offer than a handful of vocal and
costume opportunities. Alongside the overly complicated workings of a plot
about Adriana (Gheorghiu) and the Princess of Bouillon (marvelously vicious
and accurate Michaela Schuster), love rivals for the affection of Maurizio,
pretender to the throne of Poland (Jonas Kaufmann), there are moments of
unexpectedly detailed character writing.
Alessandro Corbelli finds wit and touching sentiment in his beautifully
subtle portrayal of old stage manager Michonnet who loves Adriana but
sensibly settles for fatherly affection. Equally, Bonaventura Bottone brings
enjoyable glee and a zinging tenor voice, to the role of the meddlesome
Dramatically speaking, Gheorghiu could sleepwalk the role of the
eponymous heroine, a grand yet love-torn diva. It's a prize role, not least
because the role showcases the opera's greatest hit aria "Io son l'umile
ancella," a faux modest version of Tosca's "Vissi d'arte." Better still,
coming within moments of her first appearance, it not only sets up the
character, but when sung as well as it is here, it puts the audience
devotedly on the singer's side.
Low-lying and largely dark of tone, vocally Adriana is ideally placed for
Gheorghiu. The same can also largely be said for Jonas Kaufmann,
whose ardent ringing top is catapulting him to the top of every major's
house wish. The lower reaches of his voice, as shown up by Maurizio, don't
have the same focus but it's a small price to pay, particularly his handling
of high-lying pianissimo phrases. His quietly intense duets with Gheorghiu
were among the night's highlights.
The other hallmark of the production was the conducting of Elder who
finessed unexpected woodwind colors, punctuated phrases with tuned
percussion and found space to spotlight Cilea's lovely harp writing.
McVicar and his set designer Charles Edwards take the piece's theatrical
metaphor and elegantly run with it. Each of the four acts uses a stage
within a stage. Not only does this ground the piece, which begins and ends
backstage, it gives much needed unity to the libretto and provides a context
for the melodramatic activities of the principles.
At the very end, McVicar brings on a line of silent actors who doff their
caps to the dead heroine. Such gravitas turns out to be as affecting as it
is unexpected, a fitting close to an evening that is old-fashioned in the
very best sense.