Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, November 2010

As I took my seat on the first night a young man said to his neighbour that this was better than Puccini. On the other hand I know of someone who walked out of the dress rehearsal at the first interval saying this was not opera. My opinion falls in between such strikingly different reactions.

Gheorghiu and Kaufmann

Covent Garden has not produced Adriana Lecouvreur since its first performances in 1904 and 1906, not long after the Milan premiere of 1902, so I’m delighted they have now put on such a fine production by David McVicar. Sets by Charles Edwards and costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel are complemented by Adam Silverman’s lighting, and the effect was excellent. Add to that two principal singers — Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann, both at the top of their game — who sang the same roles in concert at the Deutsche Oper Berlin last month, and we were all set for the best that this opera has to offer. Gheorghiu and Kaufmann were wonderful — she was dramatically terrific, exhibiting a lovely tone, and he sang like a god. They rose to the heights and parsed the quiet passages with superb control. Their duet towards the end of Act II was glorious, and anyone unfamiliar with opera would surely say, “This is opera”.

So much for the answer to one objection — but is it better than Puccini? I don’t think so. Puccini’s work was brilliantly theatrical, but one cannot say the same for this opera: political intrigue, mistaken identity, love triangles, jealousy, and those violets . . . oh, the violets that appear in Acts I and II, and again in deathly form in Act IV. If one of those ‘Konzept’ directors got hold of this, the flowers might be represented by a figment of the unconscious mind, but this is unlikely to happen because Adriana Lecouvreur is not an opera that attracts a multitude of different productions. I think the libretto cannot sustain an abstract production, but fortunately the music is better than the story. It’s pleasingly melodious, and from time to time it sounds as if it may really take off, but never quite does. That’s just the way it is, and no fault of Mark Elder who produced beautiful sounds and admirable tension from the orchestra. The audience were enormously enthusiastic about the singing, which helped create a buzz and must surely have helped inspire the performers.

Along with Gheorghiu and Kaufmann as Adriana and Maurizio, Alessandro Corbelli brought a wonderfully sympathetic dignity to the role of Michonnet the stage manager who loves Adriana, and acts almost as a surrogate father to her. Michaela Schuster sang beautifully in the part of the jealous Princess who sends Adriana the poisoned violets, and Maurizio Muraro sang strongly in the bass role of the Prince, with Bonaventura Bottone delightfully foppish as his servant the Abbé.

Michaela Schuster and Jonas Kaufmann

A wonderful production with superb singing and beautiful sounds from the orchestra. What more could one want? . . . Well, actually  a few cuts might not come amiss in Act III, which I found tedious. They already cut the Prince’s description of his work as an amateur chemist who has discovered a poisonous powder that induces delirium and death when inhaled, though this at least shows how the Princess gets hold of such a strange murder weapon. I would rather see the ballet cut — the music is hardly on the level of the Dance of the Hours, and it was choreographed deliberately as a mockery of bits of classical ballet, such as Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, with its ribbon dance and cat’s cradle. In the end it was all about the singing, and I’d be glad to see the abandonment of anything that detracts from that.

Further performances are scheduled for November 22, 25, 27 and 30, and December 4, 7, 10, with Angeles Blancas Gulin taking over the role of Adriana on Nov. 25 and Dec. 10, and Olga Borodina taking over as the Princess on Nov. 30 and Dec. 4, 7, 10. For more details click here.

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