The Guardian, 19 November 2010
Andrew Clements  
Ciléa: Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera House, 18 November 2010
Adriana Lecouvreur - review
As one of those works that most opera buffs know by name but are much less likely to have seen on stage, Adriana Lecouvreur hangs on to its place in the repertory by a thread. In London, both Holland Park and Chelsea Opera Group have revived Francesco Cilea's score recently, but you have to go back to 1906, just five years after its premiere in Milan, for its most recent performances at Covent Garden.

Verismo opera has never been out of fashion in the last century so there must be good reasons for Adriana fading from sight. It's not just that the score is generally inferior to anything by Puccini. The plot – about a real historical figure, an actress who was a star of the Comédie Française in Paris in the early 18th century, and her entirely fictional death from poisoning at the hands of her rival for the love of a dashing count – is hopelessly convoluted. The characterisation, even of the major roles, is thin, and the dramatic proportions are unwieldy.

Yet there are just enough effective set pieces for dramatic sopranos to want to take on the title role, which is presumably one of the reasons why the Royal Opera has mounted this lavish new production, shared with four other leading houses. The dramatic structure is too flimsy for anything but a straightforward naturalistic production, and that is what David McVicar supplies, with a striking set by Charles Edwards based upon the stage of the Comédie Française viewed from the back, the front and from the wings in the course of the four acts. And there are handsome period costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel. It's all a bit tongue-in-cheek, especially during the third-act ballet, but the fine detail is crisply presented.

So too are most of the performances, even if Angela Gheorghiu's Adriana moves in and out of focus. Her soft-grained singing is a consonant-free zone, her phrasing approximate, and there are only glimpses of the commanding dramatic presence the role demands. Alongside her, however, Jonas Kaufmann as Maurizio, Count of Saxony, is quite superb, singing with astonishing beauty of tone and elegance. His may not be an Italianate sound, but everything else about it makes that irrelevant. As Maurizio's passed-over lover, the Princesse de Bouillon, Michaela Schuster plays the woman scorned with plausible venom, while Alessandro Corbelli adds the depressed, downtrodden stage manager Michonnet to his gallery of wonderfully observed character roles. Mark Elder conducts, giving everything to a score that sometimes doesn't deserve it.
Photograph: Tristram Kenton

 back top