With multiple set pieces for its three leads, all gloriously melodic, and an unashamedly melodramatic tale mixing aristocratic intrigue and backstage theatrics, many might wonder why this almost proto-typical Italian opera relinquished its once-proud place in the repertory. For anyone too impatient to await the inevitable DVD release of the Covent Garden production (with Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann, and Olga Borodina), there is a 2009 staging from Turin with a capable cast available. Unfortunately, this Turin production mostly serves to make one understand the opera’s relative neglect in recent decades.
Director Lorenzo Mariani goes for a gambit increasingly popular — a spare physical production almost “regie”-like in its setting of the scene through a handful of props in an open space, while stamping through this somewhat abstract environment are characters in completely traditional costume, and quite opulent ones at that. This gambit allows the director to please the more conservative opera-goer (those most likely to be attracted to this opera) and yet allows for swift scene changes and at least provides a nominal acknowledgment of contemporary opera design. The gambit doesn’t do much to make the convoluted plot mechanics of Arturo Colautti and Ernest Legouvé’s libretto any more believable. Somehow court protocol requires Maurizio to dissemble affection for a married Princess, while carrying on a secret love affair with the actress Adriana Lecouvreur. Since Maurizio does not entrust Adriana with this information, so when she learns the truth she and the Princess curse each other in mutual rage. The aristocrat has more to lose and the power to avoid detection in seeking revenge, which leads to a protracted death scene for Adriana, after sniffing a poisoned bouquet of flowers. Supposedly the original source material of Eugène Scribe’s play had a historical precedent, but even if the details are correct (extremely unlikely), as staged, the opera’s action veers from the dull to the ridiculous.
So what a successful production needs is star-power — glamorous voices in appealing form who can let the music rip and help an audience forget the nonsense on stage. Perhaps that is what happened at the above-referenced Covent Garden run. But not in Turin. Marcelo Álvarez’s lyric instrument finds the role of Maurizio more suitable than some of the heavier ones he has taken on in recent years. His breath control and consistency of production cannot be seriously faulted. He simply has little imagination, either as singer or actor, so the music lacks that spark of life that might help a viewer believe momentarily an actual character is on stage, and not an over-costumed singer. The tenor has more to offer than his female co-leads, however. In the title role Micaela Carosi brings volume and an unwieldy vibrato, so any flicker of pathos in her character never flames into life. Although well-equipped with a solid mezzo voice, Marianne Cornetti is not favored by her costume, and she never makes a creditable rival for Lecouvreur. The best performance comes from Alfonso Antoniozzi as Michonnet, director of the theater where Lecouvreur acts. He doesn’t have much to do, but he manages to convince us, while he is on stage, that Lecouvreur is someone we should care about.
Cilea’s score veers from the heights of melodiousness to the depths of murky, protracted scene-setting. In the opening scene of backstage chaos, TV director Matteo Ricchetti indulges in frantic quick edits that are more annoying than effective. Thankfully he settles down after that scene into acceptable competence. Conductor Renato Palumbo elicits some silky sounds from the house forces. The Blu-Ray picture only makes its distinctive clarity felt in scanning the stitching of the costumes; the sets don’t offer much to look at.
Particular fans of these singers or this opera need not be dissuaded. Patience may well be rewarded for others curious about this opera when/if the Covent Garden production appears on the shelves.