Friday, December 31, 2010


A Fringe Benefit Returns

Cilea’s 1904 opera Adriana Lecouvreur was seen again 22 November, forsaking her 18th century Comédie Française stage for that of Covent Garden, 100 years after the last time. The opera is quite often played in Italy but is a fringe benefit elsewhere, more likely seen in somewhere like Wexford than London. It is done proud at Covent Garden with a good a cast as you could find anywhere, with a famous conductor and in a sumptuous production.

Adriana is often written off as a potboiler but it is (a little) better than that; not dross – but not gold either, pinchback perhaps. What gets it on the stage is that it is a wonderful vehicle for a starry diva, no doubt the Royal Opera mounted the opera because Angela Gheorghiv said she would like to do it.

Truth to tell, she started off not in her best voice but by the third and fourth acts (its quite long, a three hour job) she was on top form, looking gorgeous and singing like the star she can be, liquid notes, delicious phrasing, captivating, a fair treat for ears that too often have to listen to wobblers and shriekers. Moreover there was also the delectable Jonas Kaufmann, tenor of the decade, as for her two-timing self-professed military hero, Marquis of Saxony. What a voice, what a musician! of course he never sounds Italian but who cares? He is as good a tenor as you will hear (sorry, Domingo!), the voice beautiful, so expressive, so powerful when required, wide range.

With Sir Mark Elder masterful in the pit, the opera sped like an arrow with full-blooded playing to complete a performance to cherish. The subsidiary roles were well taken, too, with Adriana’s rival – a mezzo, match! – the poisoning Princess de Bouillion (by no means a soupy villainess) played well by Micaela Schuster and Allesandro Corbelli as the staunch baritone friend (a friend part often played by Tito Gobbi).

Incidentiatally my companion at the performance was Richard Bonynge who had conducted the work for his wife, Joan Sutherland; and he confessed that he never quite understood the intricacies of the plot – it is a convuluted teaser. But of course (as my mother used to say of any drama or opera “she dies in the end, doesn’t she, dear?).

Donald McVicar’s production is straightforward and Charles Edwards’ sets are imposing, rich and seemingly solid. A few doubts about the music; a few memorable tunes and more development would have put the piece firmly in the repertory and not had us thinking how superior was the talent of Verdi and Puccini.

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