The New York Times, November 9, 2011
Ciléa: Adriana Lecouvreur, New York, Carnegie Hall, November 8, 2011
2 Stars Spice Up Verismo Opera
From the packed house at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night for the Opera Orchestra of New York’s concert performance of Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur,” and from the ecstatic ovations for the soprano Angela Gheorghiu and the tenor Jonas Kaufmann, the evening’s stars, you would not have guessed that two years ago it looked as if this valuable company might go under.

Founded in 1971 by the conductor Eve Queler, the Opera Orchestra has presented concert performances of lesser-known operas with strong casts that often feature top singers. Reeling under financial pressures, it offered just a series of recitals in smaller halls during the 2009-10 “bridge season,” as board members called it.

There was a future at the end of that bridge. Complete operas came back last season. And for this “Adriana Lecouvreur” the energetic Italian conductor Alberto Veronesi was on the podium in his first official performance as the Opera Orchestra’s new music director.

“Adriana Lecouvreur,” originally presented in Milan in 1902, is a textbook example of the Italian verismo style then the rage. Loosely based on the life of an actress from the Comédie-Française in early-18th-century Paris, the opera presents its title character caught, or so she thinks, in a love triangle with a dashing count, Maurizio, who adores her, and the willful Princess of Bouillon. The score has long stretches of aggressively effervescent — you might say evanescent — music in which we witness the backstage chatter and intrigues of the theater troupe. But there are melodramatic scenes that grab you, as well as a few lyrically soaring arias.

Heatedly debating Ms. Gheorghiu’s vocal artistry in its current state is a favorite pastime of opera buffs. Her low range remains the weakest part of her voice. And in striving for pathos, her singing sometimes turned breathy and tremulous. But her voice remains alluring and expressive over all. There were beautifully shaped phrases and lovely soft high notes. She made the most of the anguished aria in the final act in which Adriana mistakenly believes that Maurizio, in a gesture of rejection, has returned a faded bouquet of violets she had given him as an avowal of love.

Mr. Kaufmann’s dusky, virile voice may lack the red-sauce spicing that many consider requisites of the verismo style. But he brings his own blend of passion and intelligence to this repertory, as he demonstrated in his Decca recording “Verismo.” He was a phenomenal Cavaradossi in Puccini’s “Tosca” at the Met in 2010. As Maurizio, he performed with meltingly lyrical phrases and thrilling top notes. In one burst of fervor, he showed how to make a gradual, breathtaking diminuendo on a sustained high note. But every vocal effect was musical and motivated by the dramatic moment.

The exciting mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, who appeared to big ovations with Mr. Kaufmann on Sunday evening at Avery Fisher Hall in the Tucker Foundation gala concert, gave a smoldering performance here as the ruthless princess. Ambrogio Maestri brought his burly, impressive baritone voice to the role of the stage manager, Michonnet. And Mr. Veronesi drew an urgent and burnished performance from the orchestra, which he conducted from memory. Talk about having a head for trivia.


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