sat 18/11/2017

Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera | reviews, news & interviews

Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera

Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera

Less a star vehicle than a handsomely sung, played and directed ensemble piece

Angela Gheorghiu's actress, dressed for Racine, succumbs to the ardour of Jonas Kaufmann's soldier-loverAll images copyright Catherine Ashmore

In the event, Covent Garden's first glitzy star vehicle of the current season turned out to be a handsome ensemble piece, with three of the four leads bringing special gifts (though not quite the full picture) to their stagey roles, tender and nuanced yet less than ideally pacy conducting from Mark Elder and about as much interpretation and telling mise-en-scènes from director David McVicar as the piece can reasonably take.

Fans of tenor Jonas Kaufmann, and they are growing with good reason by the day, will no doubt tell you that he stole the show. Not exactly. His character, Maurizio, Count of Saxony - in reality a bit of an opportunistic shit, who'd already given up on his actress by the time he wooed the French aristocracy for further promotion - is a soldier and a lover, nothing more. Ideally that needs the honeyed tones of a true Italianate tenor rather than what Kaufmann has to offer in the middle range, a sometimes bottled baritonal timbre. In short, something between this and veteran Bonaventura Bottone's still-focused cameo of a slimy Abbé would be ideal. But Kaufmann's undoubtedly tenorial top register is infallibly strong and ardent, suiting the set-pieces of the second and third acts better than the gorgeous early lovesong "La dolcissima effigie" (bit naughty of Elder, perhaps, to go with the full stop for applause both here and in Adriana's "Io son l'umile ancella". The score should run continuously). I can't wait to hear his Florestan, Lohengrin and Siegmund.

ADRIANA-2442_0582-KAUFMANNGHEORGHIU-CASHMOREYet the chemistry between Kaufmann and Gheorghiu (pictured right in the final scene) wasn't quite as touted. Dramatically she was at her most convincing not being smothered by rather awkward kisses but playing the child-actress to the paternal theatre-manager who discreetly gives up all hope of becoming her husband himself. Alessandro Corbelli was the one who gave the full picture, offering discreet intimations of the buffo roles in which we usually see him and showing a fresh dimension to his sympathetic stage presence with surprising, long-phrased ardour for Michonnet's - read perhaps Voltaire's - melancholy resignation. McVicar gave him plenty of help with the touching monologue he unfolds as he watches his Adriana in Racine's Bajazet from the wings.

The stage, of course, is an important metaphor as well as a vehicle for Cilea's naturalistic sparkle in parts of the first and third acts. Adriana, Michonnet and their crew rule within their little world, but are paupers outside it, as the kitting-out and stripping-away of Charles Edwards's beautifully designed little wooden theatre indicate. Following a Judgment of Paris ballet in which Brigitte Reiffenstuel's costumes and Andrew George's stylishly camp choreography take centre stage, a wryly skewed homage to 18th-century illusionism, Adriana uses Phèdre's speech to wreak the only revenge she can against the wealthy before the scenery flies away for her unglamorous exit with her mentor.

ADRIANA-2442_1798-GHEORGHIUSCHUSTER-CASHMOREThe aristocratic serpent in the garden is the Princesse de Bouillon, rather admirably played by mezzo Michaela Schuster (pictured with Gheorghiu left) as a pettish, vindictive figure of fun rather than a towering grande-dame rival. Which in a sense was to make good use of her limitations: a lustrous, clear middle and lower register but not quite the Italianate largesse we normally get in the role. Expect a different, if not necessarily better, interpretation from Olga Borodina in later performances.

In Act Four, only her deadly gift to her love-rival represents La Bouillon, and the stage is left to Adriana in all her infinite variety. There's a relaxed little scene in which her theatrical chums cheer her up - all excellent, they're expertly led by a soprano who's played the prima donna herself recently, Janis Kelly - before tragedy takes over. We've seen Gheorghiu's mad/doomed act before, but it's reasonably effective, and she remains peerless in bel canto artistry, the skill in lifting a phrase from the heart to the heights, even if the sound can be a little soft-grained at times. As was the orchestra from my not ideal seat in the stalls circle, never the best place to judge. Elder brought out all the subtle colours which reveal Cilea as nearly, if not quite, Puccini's match, and certainly Massenet's, even if the experienced conductor took his time over the ultimate sunset glow.

Where the composer falls short of Puccini the supreme stage master, inevitably, is in his less than dramatic curtains. But that's a virtue in the quiet cadences of the final scene, a very beautiful duet and a slow death which restores Adriana, in one final curtain-before-the-curtain, to her dramatic pre-eminence. I came away with a quiet admiration for this bunch of Parma Violets. Unlike his Countess, Cilea doesn't really do poison well, but his tender concern for his characters brings the odd tear to the eye and an ultimate leave-taking which wafts us charmingly out of the auditorium.

Watch the Decca trailer-interview for Jonas Kaufmann's new Verismo arias disc:

We've seen Gheorghiu's mad/doomed act before, but it's reasonably effective, and she remains peerless in bel canto artistry, the skill in lifting a phrase from the heart to the heights

Share this article

Comments

Sadly your wait for Kaufmann's Florestan, Lohengrin or Siegmund may prove as disppointing as this Maurizio was for me. He was not a success as Lohengrin at Bayreuth this year where illness may not be the only reason for the performances he missed. It is well known that Bayreuth is looking forward to Klaus Florian Vogt singing the role there next year. His voice now - sadly - is not Italianate enough for Cilea or Wagnerian enough for those roles he is surely aiming at as a German tenor. (The only really great recent 'Italianate' Wagner tenor was Alberto Remedios.) I had trouble last night deciphering what language Kaufmann was singing in, as well as, enduring his scooping into his head voice for a sort of 'mezza voce' that sounded artificial - but is regarded by some critics who should know better as wonderful. There were indeed some 'wonderful' moments but not enough to suggest Kaufmann is fully at ease with his voice as it is now. As for La Gheorghiu she was her usual 'doomed heroine' self but surely someone else heard the same vocal insecurity I did in her first aria - this happened recently in 'Traviata' - does she not warm up or is it simply nerves? And whisper, whisper who dares ... what was the prompt box all about ... one of those hasn't been seen at Covent Garden since some time last century I believe.

I dislike these knowall, pontificating , self-aggrandizing, self-appointed commentators, belittling crits and performers alike. I also write occasionally comments on crits, but they are based on how deeply my intellect, my emotions and my experience gathered in more than 80 years of dedication to opera and music in general, as a performer, a listener and a student are engaged, and enriched. I have deep respect even for performers who do not impress me sufficiently, and I would hate to treat them with that contemptuous nonchallance Mr. Pritchard dismissed wonderful artists like Kaufmann and Ghiorghiu. As for the Italian accent of Jonas Kaufmann, I speak fluent Italian, and I admired his superb pronunciation. He seems to speak several languages not only fluently, but with an extraordinary colloquial facility. I do recall Remedios and he certainly was an admirable singer, but comparisons of this kind are not fit to appear in comments about opera perfomers. If I write about Bryn Terfel as `Mefisto, I would not say how much better Chaliapin sang the role, although I have heard and admired his hamming in his favourite role in the late twenties... Dr.F.Shelton ( 1913 )

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters