Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, February 2017

Since Covent Garden revived this opera in 2010 for the first time in over a century a quite different production set in a 1930s fascist state was unveiled at Holland Park. Both this and the original 1730 setting in the theatrical world of Paris, lovingly recreated in David McVicar’s production, work well, and with superb singing under the sensitive baton of Daniel Oren only the libretto lets it down.

All images ROH/ Catherine Ashton

The same librettist wrote the text for what became Cilea’s final opera in 1907, which was taken off after two performances despite having a distinguished cast and conductor (Toscanini), and although the outpouring of dramatic harmony in Adriana makes a wonderful vehicle for the singers, its impenetrable story of jealousy, dissimulation, political intrigue and revenge is best taken lightly. The Prince de Bouillon’s description of his work as an amateur chemist, discovering a poisonous powder that induces delirium and death when inhaled, might have helped the audience to understand how his wife got hold of this strange murder weapon to sprinkle on the violets that kill her rival, but no matter.

Actress and her noble lover Maurizio

Angela Gheorghiu was perfection as that rival, the famous actress Adriana Lecouvreur, reprising her excellent 2010 performance of the role and celebrating 25 years of performances at Covent Garden, exuding beauty, charm and a wonderful vocal line. Other cast members were also hugely effective, particularly Ksenia Dudnikova as a glorious Princess de Bouillon, a richly toned mezzo of striking stage presence. As her brother the Prince, Romanian bass Bálint Szabó cut a very fine figure, and Polish tenor Krystian Adam was delightful as a slightly camp Abbé.

Maurizio, Michonnet, Adriana

As Adriana’s lover Maurizio Count of Saxony, source of the appalling jealousy that induces the princess her to kill the lovely actress, Brian Jagde sang with strength and passion, combining masculine clarity with quieter moments of reflection, and as the poor stage manager Michonnet who adores Adriana and acts almost as her father figure, Gerald Finley was remarkable. From his soliloquy in Act I to his later lovelorn state in Act IV he demonstrated a hugely sympathetic character, beautifully complementing the prima donna in both style and vocal interaction.

Princess de Bouillon and Maurizio

This marvellous production with its telling details of the theatrical milieu in early eighteenth century Paris uses the bucolic ballet performance of Act III in mockery of Ashton’s Fille mal gardée, the audience breaking up just before the ribbon dance produces a cat’s cradle. Such was the fate of ballet when aristocrats found other matters to distract their attention, and for a production recreating the original intent of the composer this could hardly be better, well reflecting this opera as a collector’s item.

Performances, with cast changes for Adriana and Michonnet on two occasions, continue on various dates until March 2 — for details click here.

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