The Times, 19 November 2010
Richard Morrison  
Ciléa: Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera House, 18 November 2010
Adriana Lecouvreur at Covent Garden
The last time that Francesco Cilea’s 1902 opera was staged at Covent Garden, Edward VII still had the hots for Lillie Langtry. That upwardly mobile and horizontally willing showgirl must have felt quite an affinity with Adriana, the 1730s Comedie Francaise star who falls for a serial-bonking aristocrat. It’s unlikely, though, that any of Edward VII’s mistresses feared assassination with a bouquet of poisoned violets - as happens to poor Adriana in Cilea’s opera.

But this daft denouement is surely not the only reason why it’s rarely revived. Its lush score - beautifully delineated here by the Royal Opera orchestra under Mark Elder - is often called melodious. Yet the tunes that Cilea proudly reprises again and again barely rise to the level of Puccini on a bad day.

Nor are the clunking plot twists and cardboard characters in the same league as what’s found even in a contrived melodrama like Madam Butterfly. Jonas Kaufmann, playing the two-timing Count Maurizio, may not be a consummate actor. But I don’t think it’s his fault that, as the curtain falls, we still don’t have the foggiest idea if he loves Adriana, or the murderous Princesse de Bouillon, or both, or neither.

And where’s the vital scene for the Princesse to disintegrate from catty rival into psychotic killer? Imagine Puccini leaving Scarpia’s seething monologue out of Tosca, or Verdi denying Iago his blast of bile.

Enough! At least David McVicar’s fastidiously detailed (though oddly prim) production and Charles Edwards’s ingenious set - an 18th-century theatre-within-a-theatre, symbolically stripped bare as Adriana sees through the artifice - provide a suitably stagey ambience for the world’s No 1 prima donna to play herself. And to judge from the ecstasy at the curtain-call, those in the £215 stalls felt they’d got their money’s worth from Angela Gheorghiu in the title-role.

Had they? Some trademarks - silky line, impetuous fervour, wild-eyed histrionics - were evident. But she often sounded underpowered and got herself horribly unhinged from the orchestra in her big Act IV aria. By then, in any case, most interest was focused on whether her plunging negligee would actually slip off her bosom during her enthusiastic snogs with Kaufmann.

He was tremendous at full power, a bit fuzzy when quieter. Michaela Schuster’s Princesse was hammier than a plate of Parma, yet her turbo-charged mezzo was far more exciting than Gheorghiu’s whimsical half-projection. And Alessandro Corbelli gave a touchingly nuanced performance as Adriana’s hopelessly infatuated stage manager - the one truly believable character.

I loved Andrew George’s saucy choreography of the ballet that Cilea plonked in Act III for no discernible reason. But if I have to wait another 104 years to see Adriana again I shan’t lose sleep.

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