Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2014Posted on 27 July 2014
When an opera detractor points to a high quality of music being unmatched by the libretto they can hardly have a better example than Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. Conducted with verve and sympathy by Manlio Benzi this fin-de-siècle outpouring of dramatic harmony makes for a wonderful evening, but the impenetrable story about love, jealousy, dissimulation, political intrigue and revenge, all set in the world of theatrical performance may be best ignored.
The author of this 1902 hodge-podge was a man named Arturo Colautti, also the librettist for Cilea’s final opera in 1907, which was taken off after two performances despite its distinguished cast and conductor (Toscanini). Cilea lived until 1950 but never composed another opera. Colautti was an Italian irredentist for his native Dalmatia, an interesting fact since director Martin Lloyd-Evans has set this early eighteenth century story in a 1930s fascist state, which to my mind works well.
Adrienne Lecouvreur in real life was a brilliant French actress whose involvement with the aristocracy may well have led to her death, possibly poisoning by her rival the Duchesse de Bouillon. In this opera the duchess is a princess and the poisoning uses violets given by Adriana to her lover Maurizio, who innocently hands them over to the wicked Princess — ideal material a pantomime!
Indeed there is plenty of room for laughter in this merry production, sometimes reminiscent of a Feydeau farce. I loved all the nonsense, the bright designs by Jamie Vartan and the lighting by Colin Grenfell, though I could have done without the naff choreography for the Act III party scene. But the music was wonderful and the singing had great moments. Peter Auty and Cheryl Barker as Maurizio and Adriana were glorious together in Act I, Tiziana Carraro as the haughty Princess de Bouillon delivered a hugely powerful aria in Act II with extraordinarily long-held notes, and Richard Burkhard as Michonnet the stage manager who adores Adriana was sheer delight. His soliloquy about his dreams at the end of Act I was wonderful and his portrayal of the role was one of the joys of this performance. So was Richard Burt as the Abbé de Chazeuil — his slightly camp stage presence was a source of continual amusement, and his attempts to rearrange the flowers were a hoot.
The surtitles provide a translation of the prolix and impenetrable libretto for those who want to take this opera seriously, but just go and enjoy the music, singing and staging on a warm summer’s evening. Manlio Benzi’s conducting of the City of London Sinfonia in Cilea’s very Italianate score is a joy in itself.
Performances continue on various dates until August 9 — for details click here.