Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur isn’t performed very often and, when it is, it’s usually because some great diva of the day wants to do it. That’s the case with the 2010 Covent Garden production which was created by David McVicar for Angela Gheorghiu. Actually I am a bit surprised it’s not done more often. It’s not a great masterpiece but it’s no worse than a great many commonly done pieces and, if the plot is a bit implausible, it’s not as offensive as half of Puccini’s output. I would have thought it would have great appeal to that opera middle ground to which I don’t belong.
So what is it all about? It’s really a straightforward love triangle. Adriana is an actress at the Comédie Française. She is in love with Maurizio, who she believes to be an insignificant ensign in the army of the Comte de Saxe, aspirant to the Polish throne, and also called Maurizio. You can see where this is heading. Maurizio is out of love with the Princess de Bouillon who is not dead chuffed about it. Various misunderstandings and miscommunications, mostly to do with a bunch of violets, go on before Maurizio arrives chez Adriana to find that she realizes that she’s not cut out to be a real queen, even if he does want to marry her and, anyway, she’s about to succumb to the violets, now poisoned by the Princess. So, yeah, the soprano dies.
Musically it’s a bit of a hybrid. There are elements of verismo, especially the big numbers for Maurizio and Adriana, but in other places it seems more to look back to the 19th century, especially in the ensembles and the rather peculiar ballet in Act 3. The big numbers are big and will definitely suit those who like to see their divas and divos belt out showy set pieces.
The production is very straightforward. It plays with the idea of theatre in a theatre, notably in acts 1 and 3 but not in any way that looks ridiculously cute. Sets and costumes are sort of operatic slutty 17th century. There are lots of busts on display, including one of what I think must be Racine. Large chunks of both Bajazet and Phèdre get quoted by Adriana (in Italian of course). I suspect this approach is the right one to take. I don’t see any deep ideas to explore lurking here.
The cast is probably just about ideal. The music is perfect for Gheorghiu and she is basically playing herself which, after all, is her best (only) role. Jonas Kaufmann is a man’s manly Maurizio; no powdered wig for him. It’s a full blooded performance and he gropes Angie as ardently as Roberto ever did. Alessandro Corbelli is quite superb as the elderly and somewhat disillusioned stage manager Michonnet. It’s the only real touch of subtlety in the whole piece and it’s very welcome. Olga Borodina sings powerfully as the Princess de Bouillon and she really isn’t overtasked in the acting department. The minor roles are all also well done and Mark Elder conducting demonstrates real enthusiasm for the score.
François Roussillon directs the cameras and does a good job. It’s mostly filmed in close up, which seems appropriate, but he does show us the scene where there’s a scene to be seen. It was filmed in HD and the sound (DTS 5.1) and picture on DVD are very good. Blu-ray is available. There’s a 23 minute bonus track which is all interviews with the cast and creative team. It’s not the most enlightening ever but it’s worth a look. Subtitle options are English, French, German and Spanish. The booklet includes an essay, timed track listings and a synopsis.