Finally, an opera all too long disdained by high-minded folks who want us
to suffer through “Wozzeck” one more time, has returned exactly where it
should be: center stage at the Royal Opera in London.
its great arias and extravagant plot culminating in death by violets,
“Adriana Lecouvreur” is the perfect work for stars like Angela Gheorghiu and
Jonas Kaufmann, who thrilled the packed house as a fabled 18th-century
actress and her martial cavalier, Maurizio.
As the opera
opens backstage at the Comedie-Francaise, she enters floating with an aria
about her humility and devotion to art as admirers cluck in appreciation.
Maurizio’s life is, however, complicated by a volatile princess who makes
cow eyes at him.
Director David McVicar’s trump card is to place all
the action in a theater. This is Adriana’s home territory, of course. It
also makes perfect sense of the plot’s more melodramatic MacGuffins, which
include misdirected letters, mistaken identities and mislaid jewels. He
keeps the complicated plotting as clear as can be, and works hard at
God on a Cloud
Designer Charles Edwards recreates a Baroque theater, complete with
flywheels, capstans, traps, sliding wings, rolling gauzes and even a
descending Mercury on a cloud machine, which is strikingly beautiful. When
it revolves, it takes the breath away.
It’s not just a working
stage-within-a-stage, either: When the princess appears in the second act,
her apartment is half behind the footlights and half in front. It’s a clever
metaphor for the unreal view she has of her relationship with Maurizio.
With Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s panniered silken frocks, including a
tightly corseted corn-yellow riding outfit (plus whip) for Adriana in Act 2,
the whole gorgeous operation looks like a Watteau painting come to life.
The role of Adriana, in its infrequent showings, is usually given to a
soprano with a bit of beef in her voice. This was one of the favored roles a
half century ago of the sainted Renata Tebaldi.
Gheorghiu makes a
perfectly convincing case for it to be given to a lighter lyric singer. Her
floating high pianissimi are exquisite, and her general delicacy makes for a
charming and fragile performance. Her account of the sad Act 4 aria “Poveri
fiori” (“Poor flowers”) is a showstopper.
Kaufmann brings tremendous virility, both vocally and
dramatically, to Maurizio. His dark middle register and high ringing sobs
are ideal for the character’s conflicted nature and passionate outbursts.
Michaela Schuster, a meaty-voiced mezzo, is great, too, as the
princess, and gives a fine performance of her roof-raising big number
“Acerba volutta” (“Bitter pleasure”).
The only fly in the glittering
ointment is the restrained conducting of Mark Elder.
“Adriana” is the
kind of piece that needs fevered emotionalism and even a hint of well-placed
vulgarity in the pit from time to time.
Even so, given the
tremendous cast and production, it’s time to welcome “Adriana” back into the