Adriana Lecouvreur Royal Opera House London WC2 3/5
Adria na Leco uvreur by Francesco Cilea is a relatively obscure and rarely performed opera known only for two outstanding arias.
It has a convoluted plot based on a real French actress who died in the 19th century after a doomed love affair.
Adriana loves, and is loved, by Maurizio, Count of Saxony who cannot, however, extricate himself from an affair with the Princess de Bouillon. Adriana in turn is adored by her long-suffering manager Michonnet.
The twists and turns of Cilea’s opera are hard to follow and there is also a daft death by poisoned violets scene. However, we do not go to opera for explicable story lines.
David McVicar’s production offers a visually stunning staging by designer Charles Edwards, with the opera superstar Angela Gheorghiu in the title role.
Given the audience’s bravos it was clear that they loved Brian Jagde’s Maurizio, whose voice could hit the back of the auditorium, while Gheorghiu by comparison at times struggled with vocal power.
At this stage in her career, Gheorghiu’s voice is showing signs of wear.
But high octane is not everything and Gheorghiu still has the ability to turn in a wonderfully nuanced and affective characterisation which was most notable in the final act. But it was Gerald Finley’s Michonnet who stood out.
In a heartfelt performance of an ageing man, petted but ignored by the woman he loves, Finley brings a natural musicality and depth of feeling to his character’s predicament.
Newcomer mezzo-soprano Ksenia Dudnikova made her Royal Opera debut as a visually striking and vocally powerful Princess de Bouillon.
It has been said that, despite its limitations, one of the reasons Adriana Lecouvreur survives as an opera is that it is usually revived for prima donnas who are past their prime and who still want to demonstrate their acting and vocal prowess in a character that reflects the conflicted and ageing artist.
This description appears to fit David McVicar’s production, as it was specially mounted for Angela Gheorghiu at the ROH in 2010.
It has been revived once again for her, but one wonders if it should not be mothballed once and for all as its overall musical appeal is limited.