Adriana Lecouvreur Opera in four acts (Libretto by Arturo Colautti; sung in Italian with English surtitles)
Adriana Lecouvreur Christine Bunning (soprano)
Count Maurizio Justin Lavender (tenor)
Princess Rosalind Plowright (mezzo-soprano)
Michonnet Charles Johnston (baritone)
Abbé de Chazeuil Chris Lemmings (tenor)
Prince Nicholas Todorovic (baritone)
Director Tom Hawkes
Designer Peter Rice
Opera Holland Park Chorus, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by John Gibbons
Reviewed by: Paul Hutchinson
Reviewed: 9 July, 2002
Venue: Holland Park Theatre, London W8
Adriana Lecouvreur is Francesco Cilea’s most popular opera. Premiered in 1902 in Milan, most of the important opera houses in Europe and the US have maintained regular productions of the work. In spite of its reputation as a ’war horse’, it is a seat-filler. With its dramatic plot, and luscious score, it has provided an excellent vehicle for some of the greatest singers. Caruso created the role of Count Maurizio, followed by Gigli, Mario del Monaco, José Carreras and Placido Domingo. Magda Olivero, Renata Tebaldi, Renata Scotto and Monserrat Caballe have essayed the plum role of Adriana herself – all to international acclaim.
Adriana Lecouvreur was a real-life character, a famous tragedienne at the Comédie-Française in pre-Revolution Paris. Her lover, Count Maurizio of Saxony, a man of action, an adventurer, was also a real person.
The plot of the opera concerns Adriana and the Princess – and their rivalry for the Count, and how Adriana rescues the Princess from an embarrassing confrontation with her husband just as she is supposed to be having a clandestine liaison with Maurizio. After the Princess discovers the true identity of her rescuer, she sends Adriana a posy of violets that are poisoned. As she inhales the scent, Adriana dies in the arms of Maurizio.
It is most appropriate that Holland Park Opera has made this piece one of its choices for 2002 – the opera is hardly ever seen in the UK, and 2002 is the opera’s centenary.
Tom Hawkes’s generally excellent production up-dates to the 1920s, and with only a single glaring exception, Lecouvreur survives the operation intact. The exception is the Abbé. His social standing is more suited to the original ’Ancient Regime’ setting; he seems out of place.
As the eponymous heroine, Christine Bunning only scratched the surface of this difficult role. Even on just a single hearing of the opera, one is struck by the painstaking effort that Cilea put into Adriana’s music. She seems to be surrounded by a kind of musical aura, vision-like, establishing her from the start as being apart from the rest of the characters. While Bunning seized her big moment in “Io sono l’umile ancella” (I am the humble handmaiden of the creator’s genius) with full, warm tone, and without shirking the climax, she lacks the stage presence this part demands.
As her lover, Maurizio, Justin Lavender sang with bright, unforced tone but just missed compensating with vocal heroism what he lacked in physical stature. As Adriana’s admirer, Michonnet the Stage Manager who is secretly in love with her, Charles Johnston almost stole the show.
As the Princess, Adriana’s jealous rival, Rosalind Plowright provided an admirable foil to the heroine. In her brief aria which opens Act 2, “Acerba volutta” (Bitter pleasure … soft torture), she posited her anguish perfectly, moving and singing superbly, statuesque in a chic 1920s black sequinned dress; she was simply stunning.
The rest of the cast all performed their roles well, although Chris Lemmings battled with his thankless situation to no avail.
John Gibbons conducted admirably, keeping the piece on the move with a consummate understanding of Cilea’s voluptuous music, a stunning piece of verismo theatre. The RPO was in good form, so too the Chorus.
Finally, may I suggest the surtitle mechanism is re-positioned? Bright summer evening and bright stage-lighting do not help to read the translation with the machine in its current location.
- Further performances on July 16, 18, 20, 23, 25 & 27 at 7.30
- Box Office: 0207 602 7856