Adriana Lecouvreur – an ROH production of a rarely performed opera

What an exciting experience I had last Sunday, October 19, 2011.  I walked into the delightfully remodeled Camera 3 Cinema and took my comfortable seat knowing almost nothing about what to expect. Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur sounded vaguely familiar to me, so I assumed it would be classical opera and I wouldn’t have to struggle to like the music – and Royal Opera House meant I could count on subtitles and on high quality.  But I knew absolutely nothing about the composer’s nationality or century, and absolutely nothing about the plot.  I was looking forward to being surprised.

David Soar as Quinault, Sarah Castle as Mlle Dangeville, Alessandro Corbelli as Michonnet, Janis Kelly as Mlle Jouvenot, & Iain Paton as Poisson

And what a wonderful surprise it was.  I’ve seen several ROH-HD performances, now, and they seem to generally treat us, the audience, like adults.  The stage presentation (sets, lighting, costumes) enhances the story and the music, but does not dominate them.

Before you read further I suggest you go to and enter Adriana Lecouvreur in the “Search” box in the top menu for a list of theatres to find the name of a theatre near you and the dates it will be playing there.  That way you will know if you are one of the lucky ones with a chance to see this wonderful performance and decide whether you want to read my review now or wait until after you’ve seen it.

Francesco Cilea wrote half a dozen operas around the turn of the last century, but Adriana Lecouvreur is the only one still in the (occasional) repertory.  There are no obvious hit tunes in it – on the drive home no specific melody was running through my head the way there usually is after a Puccini or a Verdi or a Mozart.  But the music was always listenable, and I frequently found myself specifically listening to it and being aware of how perfectly it meshed with the action.  A scene still in my mind is that of Adriana going around the room systematically snuffing out the candles with the orchestra essentially playing the same music for each candle.

Angela Gheorghiu as Adriana Lecouvreur

The star-studded cast is headed by Angela Gheorghiu as leading lady Adriana Lecouvreur of the Comdie-Franaise in the mid 18th century.  (She was a real person, but the opera has no known relation to any event in her real life).  I had seen Gheorghiu a couple of times before on MetHD – notably in La Rondine a couple of years ago.  There is nothing not to like in her voice or in her acting.

Adriana & Maurizio (Jonas Kaufmann)

She is passionately in mutual love with a simple soldier Maurizio,  portrayed by Jonas Kaufmann whom Opera News recently described as “everybody’s favorite tenor.”  Who am I to argue?

Alessandro Corbelli as Michonnet

The stage manager Michonnet (Alessandro Corbelli) harbors an undeclared love for Adriana, even though he is old enough to be her father.  Michonnet is only a secondary role in the opera, and stage manager is only a secondary position in the opera company, but for my money he is the only truly noble person on the stage.  His love for Adriana is true love that can only be fulfilled by her happiness – not the desire for possession that normally passes for love in opera-land.  He has recently inherited enough money to retire.  In a touching scene with Adriana he is slowly and circuitously leading up to proposing to her when she confides her hopes to marry Maurizio. Corbelli has a fine voice, but what endeared him to me was the conflict of emotions on his expressive face as he instantaneously realizes that Adriana would not welcome his proposal now – instead he proclaims his heartfelt wishes that she have a happy marriage with Maurizio.

All these events are taking place in Act I, set in the backstage area of the theatre where Adriana is shortly to appear.  The plot thickens.  Prince de Bouillon (Maurizio Muraro)  appears back stage with his lackey Abb de Chazeuil (Bonaventura Bottone).  The prince is carrying on a love affair with the actress Mademoiselle Duclos (non-verbal cast member) but a gossip has just told him that she was seen writing a note to someone else.  In true autocratic fashion he tells the Abb to “get that note.”

Bottone is another example of excellent acting in a minor part. He has a real sly weasel-face as he scurries off to do his master’s bidding.  He reminded me of Brother Jerome in the Brother Cadfael mystery series.

The note is duly intercepted and read by the prince.  It is for Maurizio, but is unsigned; it arranges an assignation for that very night at the prince’s own villa.  “Aha,” says the prince.  “I’ll throw a party at the villa and catch that two-timing slut red-handed.  Reseal the note and see that Maurizio gets it.”  He also invites Adriana to the party.

Princesse de Bouillon (Olga Borodina)

Act II begins with a couple of surprises.  It seems that the inaudible Duclos is not only the paramour of Prince de Bouillon, but she is also a good friend, confidante, and go-between for the Princesse de Bouillon (Olga Borodina) who is  having an affair with the Count of Saxony – who turns out to be Maurizio!

Borodina has a powerful and melodious mezzo voice, an imposing presence, and a more-than-ample figure.  She really comes across as an older woman passionately in love with a younger man.  She is perfectly willing to use her influence to further his career, but she is not willing to share his love with another woman.  And therein lies the drama, since Adriana feels exactly the same!

The Royal Opera House Chorus

That’s enough to set you up for seeing it and enjoying it – and finding out how it ends!


The Opera Nut

Camera 3 Cinema
288 S 2nd St
San Jose, CA 95113
(408) 395-6465

Photos: ©The Royal Opera/ Catherine Ashmore November 2010

This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in on October 27, 2011

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