The Telegraph, 19 November 2010
Rupert Christiansen
Ciléa: Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera House, 18 November 2010
Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera House, London, review

A glamorous piece of old-fashioned romantic escapism, beautifully staged and eloquently sung. Rating: * * * *

Forget the cuts, the eurozone crisis and the prospect of winter: here is a glamorous piece of old-fashioned romantic escapism, beautifully staged and eloquently sung. It provides a hugely enjoyable evening, and if it doesn’t quite catch fire, the shortfall lies not so much in the performance as the opera itself – a slow-burn melodrama, distantly based on fact and drawn from a play popularised by Sarah Bernhardt, about a celebrated 18th-century Parisian actress whose crush on the dashing Count Maurizio is thwarted by her dastardly rival the Princesse de Bouillon.

Cilea’s score is often rather lovely. He orchestrates carefully and shares with his southern Italian compatriot Bellini a gift for long-spun melancholy melody, but the net effect is a bit too genteel for my low taste. Too many gavottes, to put it bluntly, and not enough bodice-ripping (Massenet got the balance right in Manon).

For Adriana’s first Covent Garden outing for over a century, Mark Elder is the conductor. He takes the music very seriously, supporting the singers on a velvety bed of sound and drawing some ravishing string playing from the orchestra in the prelude to the final act. I just wish he had driven it more ruthlessly and let rip at the climaxes; at times, it teetered into preciousness, and this is an opera which needs all the vulgarity it can get.

David McVicar’s staging is much as one would have expected from this director. Sumptuously designed in period by Charles Edwards and Brigitte Reiffenstuel, it literally revolves round the model of a baroque theatre, a fitting frame for the grandstanding emotions of the principal characters.

McVicar handles the action with Zeffirelli-style panache and lets the singers get on with it, unburdened by further pretentious conceptualising.

The one significant drawback is an hour of interval, slowing the pace even further.

Angela Gheorghiu makes her debut in the title-role. She acts the part of the capricious charmer with vivacity = her own personality isn’t far away, one suspects = and looks stunning in some fabulous frocks. Adriana is known as a nice, easy sing for ageing or challenged prima donnas (no difficult top notes, and a tame orchestra), so Gheorghiu, in her vocal prime, should have found it a doddle. But her first aria was bumpy and nervous, and she fudged the end of the second. Elsewhere, in duet and declamation, she often sang exquisitely.

Maurizio was the marvellous Jonas Kaufmann, who sailed through, giving an object lesson in legato en route. Michaela Schuster made a regal Princesse de Bouillon, and Alessandro Corbelli was very touching as the infatuated impresario Michonnet. I came away feeling that I had spent three hours sucking on boiled sweets.

Foto: Catherine Ashmore 

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