Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera | reviews, news & interviews
Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera
Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera
Engaging if little-known work shines in well-cast revival
Adriana Lecouvreur deserves to be better known. The opera has a toe-hold in the repertoire, with occasional appearances, usually as a showcase for the soprano in the title role. Its composer, Francesco Cilea, is known for little else, but the opera demonstrates an impressive melodic gift, an ear for orchestral colour, and a rare ability to pace music in step with a complex and extended narrative.
This production, directed by David McVicar and with sets by Charles Edwards, was first staged in 2010 and is returning to Covent Garden for a first revival. It is a spectacular affair, if uncontroversial in its period stylings, but the straightforward presentation only emphasises how the opera can stand on its own merits. And the cast assembled for the revival is superb, a mix of big stars and little-known names, but all perfectly matched to their roles.
The story concerns an actress, Adriana (Angela Gheorghiu) in 18th century Paris, who is in love with Maurizio, Count of Saxony (Brian Jagde), but who has a rival in the Princess de Bouillon (Ksenia Dudnikova, pictured right). The other major characters are the theatre manager, Michonnet (Gerald Finley), who is also in love with Adriana, and the princess’s husband, the Prince de Bouillon (Bálint Szabó). Over the course of four substantial acts – it’s a long opera, but it flies – the love triangle plays out in a series of theatrical and aristocratic settings.
In the first act, we are backstage at Adriana’s theatre. McVicar and Edwards present a full-sized wooden frame for a theatre stage as the backdrop, facing away from us, but rotated to different angles to furnish the various palaces and homes of the later acts, including a private theatre in the third, with the stage now facing the audience – this the setting for a ballet scene, brilliantly integrated into the narrative as a fracas in the onstage audience returns attention to the story, even as the dancers continue their act. It all ends tragically, of course, and while Adriana’s death scene, in the arms of her now reconciled lover, is protracted, Cilea is able to maintain the emotion, and the dramatic pretence, right up to the final bars.
Just as in 2010, this revival is primarily a platform for Angela Gheorghiu. Half of the cast sheet is given over to a tribute to the star soprano, which tells us that she has now been performing at Covent Garden for 25 years and has given nearly 150 performances there. It is pleasing to report, then, that her voice is as agile as ever, perhaps lacking the tonal purity of earlier years, but still elegant and distinctive. Adriana Lecouvreur isn’t a particularly taxing role, technically, but it requires a broad range of tone and expression, all of which Gheorghiu delivers with ease. An innovative conceit of the opera is that, when Adriana performs her theatrical roles, her lines are spoken over music, and Gheorghiu has an impressive ability to exploit the dramatic potential. Very little of the role is particularly high or loud, but Gheorghiu is always able to command the ensemble, even at moderate dynamics.
For the tenor role of Maurizio, the Royal Opera has made an impressive find with Brian Jagde. He has a voice of astonishing projection and power, and he is able to convey all the emotion that the role requires. He is sometimes a little lacking in finesse, swooping up to high notes or attacking fortissimo entries with unnecessary brutality, but the sheer dramatic impact of his singing makes him a huge asset here. Definitely a name to watch. Bálint Szabó is the main bass presence, as the jilted Prince de Bouillon, with a rich, even tone, satisfying and authoritative. Just a shame we heard so little of him.
The Michonnet of Gerald Finley, by contrast, is an almost ubiquitous presence throughout the opera (pictured above), his role a kind of chaperone and confidente of the heroine. Finley was in excellent voice last night. If, like me, you are more used to hearing him in Wagner and German Lieder, you’ll be impressed by the fluency and elegance of his Italian – clearly a versatile performer. He has excellent diction too, and he can really act. Ksenia Dudnikova brings a deliciously sinister mezzo to the role of the love rival. Her tone is Slavic – edgy and occasionally caustic – but ideal for the role.
Conductor Daniel Oren gives a proficient account of the score. He sometimes seemed to rush the singers, and some of the climaxes didn’t sparkle as they might, but the singing always held together, and the orchestra was on top form throughout. A great ensemble show then, with an impressive cast from top to bottom. It’s the ideal platform for Gheorghiu, but she is far from the only attraction here.
- Adriana Lecouvreur at the Royal Opera until 2 March
- Read the review of the original production
- More opera reviews on theartsdesk
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