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.
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.
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. 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. The running time of a typical modern performance is about 135 minutes (excluding intervals).
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 to 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, although his voice was by then in decline.
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. 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.
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.
|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|
- Place: Paris
- Time: 1730
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. However, Adriana explains she has a lover: Maurizio, a soldier in the service of the Count of Saxony. She is unaware that Maurizio is in reality the count himself. He enters and declares his love for Adriana, 'La dolcissima effigie'. They agree to 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, in which she requests 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 Duclos and Maurizio. He sends Duclos's letter on to Maurizio, who then cancels his appointment with Adriana. After receiving his notification on stage, she agrees to join the Prince's party.
A villa by the Seine
The Princess de Bouillon, not the actress Duclos, is waiting for Maurizio and expresses her love for him: 'Acerba voluttà, dolce tortura'. When he enters, she sees the violets and asks how he came by them. Maurizio presents them to her. Nevertheless, despite being grateful for her help at court, he admits he no longer loves her. Although she guesses he has a lover, he won't reveal her name. 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 the woman who is in hiding. Adriana trusts him and agrees to help. During the intermezzo that follows, the house is darkened, which Adriana uses to tell 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. The stage manager Michonnet notices that the Princess has dropped a bracelet, which he gives to Adriana.
The Hôtel de Bouillon
Maurizio has been imprisoned for debt, whilst the Princess is desperate to discover the identity of her rival. The Prince, who has an interest in chemistry, is storing a powerful poison that the government has asked him to analyze. At a reception given by the Prince and Princess, guests note the arrival of Michonnet and Adriana. The Princess thinks she recognizes the latter's voice. When the Princess announces that Maurizio has been wounded in a duel, Adriana faints. However, soon afterwards, when Maurizio enters uninjured, Adriana is ecstatic. He sings of his war exploits, 'Il russo Mencikoff'. A ballet is performed: the 'Judgement of Paris'. Adriana learns that the bracelet Michonnet found belongs to the Princess. In growing recognition that they are rivals for Maurizio's affection, the Princess and Adriana challenge each other. When the former pointedly suggests that Adriana should recite a scene from 'Ariadne abandoned', 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.
A room in Adriana's house
Michonnet is waiting. Adriana is consumed with anger and jealousy. Members of the theatre company come to visit her, bringing her presents on her name day and 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. Although they embrace, he realises 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. For a moment, she becomes lucid again, 'ecco la luce', but then dies.
La Principessa di Bouillon,
Opera House and Orchestra
|Federico Del Cupolo,
La Scala Orchestra and Chorus, Milan
Miti Truccato Pace,
RAI Orchestra and Chorus, Milan
|CD: Cetra Opera Collection – Warner Fonit
Cat: 8573 87480-2
San Carlo Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Naples (live recording)
|CD: Opera D'Oro
Mario Del Monaco,
Santa Cecilia Academy Orchestra and Chorus, Rome
Lyric Orchestra of Radio France Orchestra and Chorus (live recording)
|CD: Opera D'Oro
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
Philharmonia Orchestra, Ambrosian Opera Chorus
|CD: CBS Records
Cat: M2K 79310
La Scala Orchestra and Chorus, Milan
|DVD: Opus Arte
Cat: OALS 3011D
Welsh National Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Cardiff, Wales
Cat: 475 7906
|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"
Audio CD: The Opera Lovers
Cat: ADR 200001
- Full Search in: Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia of references for all Adrianas
- 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).
- The Met Archives (database)
- Olivero returned to the stage in 1951, after a ten-year retirement, at Cilea's insistent request that she agree to perform the role of Adriana (Rosenthal, H. and Warrack, J., "Olivero, Magda", The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 1979, pp. 358–359; ISBN 0-19-311318-X).
- Christiansen, Rupert (19 November 2010). "Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera House, London, review". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 18 January 2015.
- The synopsis by Simon Holledge was first published at Operajaponica.org and appears here by permission.
- Recordings of the opera on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk Retrieved 30 July 2012
- Libretto of Adriana Lecouvreur (German) (Italian)
- English Libretto of Adriana Lecouvreur
- Kobbé, Gustav (1976). The Complete Opera Book. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 1205–1209.
- History of performances of Adriana Lecouvreur by Cilea extracted from the almanac by Gherardo Casaglia