Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera House, London
Friday 19 November 2010
It’s more than a century since Covent Garden last staged Francesco Cilea’s ‘Adriana Lecouvreur’, and the reason they’re doing it now – for astronomical seat prices – is glaringly obvious.
For this is an opera about celebrity: about high style, romance, jealousy, violence, low intrigue, and the precariousness of fame – all the things our contemporary media are obsessed with. Its central character was a real historical figure, the charismatic star of the eighteenth-century Comedie Francaise whose tempestuous love-life earned implacable rivals and a murkily mysterious demise.
According to the production team, this show has been expressly designed round the personality of Angela Gheorghiu, its star, but she herself hotly denies that she ‘is’ Adriana. But if she’s not typecast, she’s certainly dream casting for a role which all the great dramatic sopranos – from Joan Sutherland to Renee Fleming – have scrambled to make their own. Her co-star Jonas Kaufmann’s role of Adriana’s wayward aristocrat-officer lover Maurizio was one which Caruso was the first among leading tenors to appropriate; one of Maurizio’s arias was on Placido Domingo’s debut recording.
And when these singers first meet amid Charles Edwards’s charmingly naturalistic evocation of backstage life at the Comedie Francaise, they do seem made for each other. Every moment in this beautiful work is dramatic, here fastidiously conducted by Mark Elder, with peaks of intensity in the set-piece arias. With the first of these – where, Tosca-like, Adriana proclaims herself a chaste servant of art – Gheorghiu reminds us what a consummate artist she is, trading on that curious complicity she enjoys with her legions of fans. Kaufmann’s answering aria finds him muting his characteristically burnished tone with a lovely tenderness.
With the superlative Alessandro Corbelli as Adriana’s hopelessly enamoured stage-manager,
and mezzo Michaela Schuster making a fine foil as her rival – the aptly-named Princesse de Bouillon – Gheorghiu effortlessly asserts her dominance musically and dramatically. Delivering a speech from ‘Phedre’ as a coded humiliation of the princess, she evinces a sulphurous fury. Kaufmann’s sound, meanwhile, though not quite that of a young Domingo, becomes more ringingly heroic as the evening goes on.
David McVicar’s production is full of clever touches and includes an absolutely exquisite little entr’acte ballet. Its sure arc progresses inexorably from humdrum public reality to a private and tragic apotheosis.
This opera being a lightly-fictionalised version of an improbably dramatic life, the denouement comes when, having sniffed a bunch of poisoned violets sent by her jealous rival, the heroine becomes delirious and starts to relive her greatest stage moments. Gheorghiu’s handling of this scene is flawless, her voice soaring and falling back in despair like a wounded bird. The last thing we hear is Maurizio’s grief-stricken cry which – as Kaufmann delivers it, over the sound of a consoling harp – wrings the hearts of all who have managed to stay the emotional course with this drama: it may be underrated, but it ultimately lacks the visceral power of Verdi and Puccini. In the pre-cinema Italy of Cilea’s day, operas like this would be the regular Saturday-night entertainment for rich and poor alike. As the ovation confirmed, it still makes a splendid one today.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cyclist who knocked down three-year-old girl says his life has been 'destroyed'
- 2 Chelsea victory parade mocked on Twitter as 'tens of fans' pack the streets of London
- 3 US warned by Chinese media to stop meddling or 'war will be inevitable'
- 4 Woman, 21, dies after taking contraceptive pill that 'caused fatal blood clot'
- 5 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
Stolen Instagram photo sells for $90,000
Glastonbury lineup 2015: The Women's Institute to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
Twin Peaks series 3: Man behind the 'dark, cloying and obsessive' original soundtrack returns to work with David Lynch
Dheepan, film review: Palme d'Or prize goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 7: Why two of the show's most iconic characters just met
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people