Adriana Lecouvreur

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Adriana Lecouvreur is an opera in four acts by Francesco Cilea to an Italian libretto by Arturo Colautti, based on the 1849 play Adrienne Lecouvreur by Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouvé. It was first performed on 6 November 1902 in Milan.

Background[edit]

The same play by Scribe and Legouvé which served as a basis for Cilea's librettists was also used by at least three different librettists for operas carrying exactly the same name, Adriana Lecouvreur, and created by three different composers. The first was an opera in three acts by Tommaso Benvenuti (premiered in Milan in 1857). The next two were lyric dramas in 4 acts by Edoardo Vera (to a libretto by Achille de Lauzières) which premiered in Lisbon in 1858, and by Ettore Perosio (to an anonymous libretto), premiered in Geneva in 1889. After Cilea created his own Adriana, however, none of those by others were performed anymore and they remain largely unknown today.[1]

The opera is based on the life of the French actress Adrienne Lecouvreur (1692–1730). While there are some actual historical figures in the opera, the episode it recounts is largely fictional, its death-by-poisoned violets plot device often signalled as verismo opera's least realistic.[2] It is often condemned as being among the most confusing texts ever written for the stage, and cuts that have often been made in performance only make the story harder to follow.[citation needed] The running time of a typical modern performance is about 135 minutes (excluding intervals).

Performance history[edit]

The opera premiered at the Teatro Lirico, Milan, on 6 November 1902, with the well-known verismo soprano Angelica Pandolfini in the title role, Enrico Caruso in the role of Maurizio, and the lyric baritone Giuseppe De Luca as Michonnet.

The opera was first performed in the United States by the San Carlo Opera Company on January 5, 1907 at the French Opera House in New Orleans with Tarquinia Tarquini in the title role. It gained its Metropolitan Opera premiere on 18 November 1907 (in a performance starring Lina Cavalieri and Caruso). It had a run of only three performances that season, however, due in large part to Caruso's ill-health. Subsequently, it was revived at the Met from time until a new production was commissioned in 1963. That 1963 production continued to be remounted at the same theatre, with differing casts, for the next few decades. It was in the lead role of this opera that the Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo made his Met debut in 1968, alongside Renata Tebaldi in the title role. He sang again in Adriana Lecouvreur in February 2009,[3] although his voice was by then in decline.[citation needed]

The title role in Adriana Lecouvreur has always been a favorite of sopranos with large voices, which tend to sit less at the very top of their range. This part has a relatively low tessitura but requires great vocal power, and is a meaty and challenging one to tackle on a dramatic level – especially during the work's so-called "Recitation" and death scene.[citation needed] Famous Adrianas of the past 75 years have included Claudia Muzio, Magda Olivero, Leyla Gencer, Montserrat Caballé, Renata Tebaldi, Raina Kabaivanska, Renata Scotto, Mirella Freni and Joan Sutherland. Angela Gheorghiu tackled the role at the Royal Opera, London in 2010 with Jonas Kaufmann as Maurizio.."[4]

A recording of part of the opera's last act duet "No, più nobile", rejigged into a self-contained tenor aria, was made by Caruso as early as 1902 for the Gramophone & Typewriter Company in Milan and its affiliates, with Cilea at the piano.

In Decca's 1990 complete performance of the work, with Dame Joan Sutherland as the female lead, the Australian conductor Richard Bonynge made sure that he restored a long-lost passage that Cilea had cut originally from the score. Its restoration made the opera's plot more transparent.[according to whom?]

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere cast, November 6, 1902
(Conductor: Cleofonte Campanini)
Adriana Lecouvreur (Adrienne Lecouvreur), a famous actress soprano Angelica Pandolfini
Maurizio (Maurice de Saxe), Count of Saxony tenor Enrico Caruso
Princess de Bouillon mezzo-soprano Edvige Ghibaudo
Prince de Bouillon bass Edoardo Sottolana
The Abbé de Chazeuil tenor Enrico Giordani
Michonnet, a stage manager baritone Giuseppe De Luca
Mlle Jouvenot soprano
Mlle Dangeville mezzo-soprano
Poisson tenor
Quinault bass
Major-domo tenor

Synopsis[edit]

Place: Paris
Time: 1730[5]

Act 1[edit]

Backstage at the Comédie-Française

Preparing for a performance, the company bustle around Michonnet, the stage manager. The Prince de Bouillon, admirer of the actress Duclos, is with his companion, the Abbé. Adriana enters reciting. Complimented, she sings 'Io son l'umile ancella' ("I am the humble servant of the creative spirit"). The Prince hears that Duclos is writing a letter, and arranges for its interception. Left alone with Adriana, Michonnet wants to express his love for her, but Adriana explains she has a lover – a soldier in the service of the Count of Saxony. Maurizio is in reality the count himself. He enters and declares his love for Adriana, 'La dolcissima effigie'. They will meet after the performance. Adriana gives him some violets to put in his buttonhole. The Prince and the Abbé return. They have obtained the letter from Duclos – asking for a meeting with Maurizio later that evening near the Prince's villa. The Prince decides to arrange a party for the company at the villa in order to expose the couple. He sends the letter on to Maurizio who then cancels his appointment with Adriana. She receives his letter on stage. Adriana agrees to join the Prince's party.

Act 2[edit]

A villa by the Seine

The Princess de Bouillon, not the actress Duclos, is waiting for Maurizio. She loves him, 'Acerba voluttà, dolce tortura'. He enters. She sees the violets, and asks where he got them. He presents them to her. Maurizio is grateful for her help at court but admits he no longer loves her. She guesses that he has a lover but he won't reveal who she is. The Prince and the Abbé suddenly arrive and the Princess hides. Maurizio realizes they think he is with Duclos. Adriana enters and learns Maurizio's true identity. He tells Adriana the assignation was political. They must arrange the escape of a woman who is in hiding. She is not Duclos. Adriana trusts him and agrees to help. During the intermezzo that follows the house is darkened, and Adriana tells the Princess she can escape. However, the two women are mutually suspicious and the rescue attempt turns into a blazing quarrel before the Princess finally leaves. Michonnet notices a bracelet dropped by the Princess. He gives it to Adriana.

Act 3[edit]

The Hôtel de Bouillon

Maurizio has been imprisoned for debt, and the Princess is desperate to discover the identity of her rival. The Prince, who has an interest in chemistry, is putting away a powerful poison that the government has asked him to analyze. Michonnet and Adriana arrive for the reception. The Princess thinks she recognizes her voice. She announces that Maurizio has been wounded in a duel and Adriana faints. Soon afterwards Maurizio enters uninjured and Adriana is ecstatic. He sings of his war exploits, 'Il russo Mencikoff'. A ballet is performed: the 'Judgement of Paris'. The Princess and Adriana challenge each other in growing recognition that they are rivals for Maurizio's affection. Adriana learns that the bracelet Michonnet found belongs to the Princess. The latter pointedly suggests that Adriana should recite a scene from 'Ariadne abandoned' but the Prince asks instead for a scene from Phèdre. Adriana uses the final lines of the text to make a headstrong attack on the Princess, who determines to have her revenge.

Act 4[edit]

A room in Adriana's house

Michonnet is waiting. Adriana is delirious with anger and jealousy. Members of the theatre company come to visit her, bringing her presents on her name day, trying to persuade her to return to the theatre. Michonnet has retrieved a diamond necklace, previously pawned by Adriana to help Maurizio pay off his debts. A casket is delivered with a note from Maurizio. Adriana looks at the note and immediately feels unwell. She looks in the box and takes out the faded violets that she had once given Maurizio in the theatre. She is hurt that he should send them back to her. She kisses the flowers, 'Poveri fiori', and throws them in the fire. Maurizio enters. He wishes to marry her. They embrace, but he finds she is shaking. Maurizio tells her that he didn't send the flowers. She becomes deranged. Michonnet and Maurizio realize that she has been poisoned. She becomes lucid again, 'Ecco la luce', and dies.

Recordings[edit]

Year Cast
(Adriana Lecouvreur,
La Principessa di Bouillon,
Maurizio, Michonnet)
Conductor,
Opera House and Orchestra
Label[6]
1950 Mafalda Favero,
Elena Nicolai,
Nicola Filacuridi,
Luigi Borgonovo
Federico Del Cupolo,
La Scala Orchestra and Chorus, Milan
CD: VAI
Cat: 1230
1951 Carla Gavazzi,
Miti Truccato Pace,
Giacinto Prandelli,
Saturno Meletti
Alfredo Simonetto,
RAI Orchestra and Chorus, Milan
CD: Cetra Opera Collection – Warner Fonit
Cat: 8573 87480-2
1959 Magda Olivero,
Giulietta Simionato,
Franco Corelli,
Ettore Bastianini
Mario Rossi,
San Carlo Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Naples (live recording)
CD: Opera D'Oro
Cat: 7037
1961 Renata Tebaldi,
Giulietta Simionato,
Mario Del Monaco,
Giulio Fioravanti
Franco Capuana,
Santa Cecilia Academy Orchestra and Chorus, Rome
CD: Decca
Cat: 430256-2
1975 Montserrat Caballé,
Plácido Domingo,
Janet Coster,
Orazio Mori
Gianfranco Masini,
Lyric Orchestra of Radio France Orchestra and Chorus (live recording)
CD: Opera D'Oro
Cat: OPD-1194
1977 Renata Scotto,
Elena Obraztsova,
Giacomo Aragall,
Giuseppe Taddei
Gianandrea Gavazzeni,
San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus
(Recording of a performance in the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, September)
CD: Myto Records
Cat: 2MCD 005 234
1977 Renata Scotto,
Elena Obraztsova,
Plácido Domingo,
Sherill Milnes
James Levine,
Philharmonia Orchestra, Ambrosian Opera Chorus
CD: CBS Records
Cat: M2K 79310
1989 Mirella Freni,
Fiorenza Cossotto,
Peter Dvorský,
Ivo Vinco
Gianandrea Gavazzeni,
La Scala Orchestra and Chorus, Milan
DVD: Opus Arte
Cat: OALS 3011D
1988 Joan Sutherland,
Cleopatra Ciurca,
Carlo Bergonzi,
Leo Nucci
Richard Bonynge,
Welsh National Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Cardiff, Wales
CD: Decca
Cat: 475 7906
2000 Daniela Dessì,
Olga Borodina,
Sergei Larin,
Carlo Guelfi
Roberto Rizzi Brignoli,
La Scala Orchestra and Chorus, Milan
(Audio and video recordings of a performance (or of performances) at La Scala, January)
DVD: TDK "Mediactive"
Cat: DV-OPADL
Audio CD: The Opera Lovers
Cat: ADR 200001

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Full Search in: Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia of references for all Adrianas
  2. ^ However, for the reference on how widespread in the 18th century problem of poisoning was one could read the chapter on the "Slow Poisoners" within Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay (pp. 565–592).
  3. ^ The Met Archives (database)
  4. ^ Christiansen, Rupert The Daily Telegraph, London, 19 November 2010
  5. ^ The synopsis by Simon Holledge was first published at Operajaponica.org and appears here by permission.
  6. ^ Recordings of the opera on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk Retrieved 30 July 2012

Sources