Cilea’s ‘verismo’ opera has languished on the fringes of the repertoire for many years, and although the Chelsea Opera Group gave the work in concert as a vehicle for Nelly Miriciou last year and Opera Holland Park staged it eight years’ ago, it’s had to wait 104 years for a revival at Covent Garden, which by anyone’s reckoning is a long wait, but of course the question is ‘But was it worth it?’
Well yes, and no. There’s usually a reason why operas languish in the doldrums (Niobe, regina di Tebe for example), but sometimes when a relic from a bygone operatic age gets a good dusting down a masterpiece is revealed, but more often than not the reasons for its obscurity become plain and it's not seen again for another generation, which will probably be the fate of Adriana Lecouvreur.
Cilea’s tale, about an actress, Adriana Lecouvreur, who is in love with a Prince, Maurizio, has more than a whiff of the Mills & Boon about it, and as operatic stories go – Maurizio is also loved by the Princesse de Bouillon who finding out that he loves Adriana sends Adriana a casket of poisoned violets for her birthday, which finishes her off in true operatic style, is pretty daft and only really wears its ‘verismo’ tag because of the musical idiom in which it is written.
But The Royal Opera evidently believes in the work as it’s hard to envisage it better staged, played or sung, indeed it’s a long time since I’ve been to an operatic performance where it’s blatantly obvious that everyone involved has thought long and hard about how to make it work, and are all pulling together to give it their all.
Sir Mark Elder galvanises the orchestra who respond with brilliantly detailed playing, and although Cilea’s score isn’t top-drawer stuff, you’re unlikely to hear a more persuasive version of the work than this.
The star-studded line up of principals delivers strong performances, with the finest coming from Jonas Kaufmann, who yet again proves that he is peerless in this repertoire. He has the big guns for the role of Maurizio but it’s his delicately spun mezza-voce phrases that really strike home and needless to say, he looks the part to perfection.
Alessandro Corbelli is on fine form as Michonnet, the stage manager of the theatre troupe, and it’s good to see him in a more serious part here than usual whilst Michaela Schuster was suitably venomous as the spurned Princesse de Bouillon .There’s a splendid supporting cast that includes Bonaventura Bottone (Abbé de Chazeuil) and Janis Kelly (Mademoiselle Jouvenot)
In the title role Angela Gheorghiu gives a fine portrayal of Adriana, and playing a star actress who is adored by her fans can’t be that difficult for her, yet she often comes across as being too mannered – it’s like there’s an additional layer of artifice that somehow distracts from her actual performance, which is a shame as she sang gloriously throughout the evening and was a magnetic stage presence.
David McVicar’s staging was faultless and in Charles Edwards’ suitably evocative designs told the story clearly and drew turbo-charged performances from all the cast – would that his talents were used more often down the road.
All in all this was a red-letter day for The Royal Opera and whilst Adriana Lecouvreur is never going to become a repertory piece, it was good to have seen it, and I count myself lucky that I saw it in such a great staging with as fine a cast as you’re likely to hear today.