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Plácido Domingo as Maurizio and Maria Guleghina as Adriana Lecouvreur [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
25 Feb 2009

Adriana Lecouvreur at the MET

There come nights in the opera season where gesamtkunstwerke won’t do — enough of epic masterpieces and supreme lyric outpourings of the human spirit!

Francesco Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur

Adriana: Maria Guleghina; Princesse de Bouillon: Olga Borodina; Maurizio: Plácido Domingo; Michonnet: Roberto Frontali; Prince de Bouillon: John Del Carlo. Conducted by Marco Armiliato.

Above: Plácido Domingo as Maurizio and Maria Guleghina as Adriana Lecouvreur

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera


There are nights at the opera when we want to have fun. Francesco Cilea wrote Adriana Lecouvreur for such occasions, and such occasions there are in glorious plenty in the current Met revival of this sublime bit of kitsch. If that other grand operatic folderol La Gioconda, revived in the Met’s opening week last fall, had been cast with half the care or staged with half the expertise of this Adriana, it would have been a hit and not a yawn. For one thing, the title role in Gioconda should certainly be offered to Maria Guleghina, who performs Adriana with all the excitement (if not exactly the dependable legato) that both roles call for. She would give Gioconda the fire it conspicuously lacked last fall — the fire that makes a Gioconda — or an Adriana. Guleghina knows what melodrama is all about. When her Adriana, feverishly dying, cried, “Melpomene son io!” one did not quite believe it, but one did believe that Guleghina, as Adriana, believed it.

Guleghina does not have a reliable instrument. I’m trying to choose my words carefully here. Her voice is extraordinary — sometimes it bubbles over like some great Russian river in flood, whelming the landscape in solid sound, and at other times it blinks out just when you hoped you could rely on it. Her technique is not smooth when a quieter voice is called for, the exquisite thread of a Milanov or a Freni is not hers to command. She sings the great aria of her first appearance, “Io son l’umile ancella,” in separate bursts, divided voices, not as if she is explicating her theatrical technique (the text at this point) but as if there is a disjunction between the amount of breath she has summoned and the amount that arrives. This can unsettle, as it does in such other Guleghina signature roles as Verdi’s Abigaille and Lady Macbeth — but they both require a coloratura precision she does not have; Adriana does not, and is therefore a better role choice for her. She tosses herself about with abandon in the love scenes, but she is at the top of her form in the great confrontations with Olga Borodina’s Princesse de Bouillon, and when, at the climax of Act II, these two great ladies in full cry and spectacular silken costumes, panniers on display like the plumage of prehistoric birds in battle array, it is one of opera’s great scenes presented at the pitch of gladiatorial combat. Poisoned violets? I was surprised not to see blood and broken bones, picked clean by harpie teeth and claws.

Adriana_Met_02.pngOlga Borodina as The Princess de Bouillon and Plácido Domingo as Maurizio

Borodina, of course, is one of the great voices of our time and one of New York’s happiest acquisitions from the Russian vocal stable. Her Laura was a rare fine feature of the Gioconda, but the Princesse is a far more violent, desperate character — which suits her admirably. We hate the Princesse because she refuses to give up the man she loves, though he loves Adriana, and because she resorts to poison to keep him — but remember, she’s in the throes of first passion, after years of an arranged, aristocratic marriage, and Cilea spares her a dab of sympathetic treatment. In any case, Borodina’s singing is always passionate without losing track of musicianship. Her low tones are utterly Russian, but she has learned how to deploy them in Italian music (and French music) without Slavic accents, and her control in this hectic part was icily correct. When she wants a note to go here, it goes here, if there, it goes there, nowhere else, precisely pitched and just as loud or as soft as she desires it to be. This is not as common (especially among the ladies in the Italian repertory nowadays) as it might be, and I wish she’d give Guleghina a coaching session or two.

Adriana_Met_03.pngRoberto Fontali as Michonnet and Maria Guleghina as Adriana Lecouvreur

The original choice for Maurizio being transferred to the new Trovatore, the role was given to Plácido Domingo, originally set to conduct these performances. Maurizio was the role of his Met debut forty years ago, and everyone (not least Guleghina) was thrilled that he got through it decently — but let’s be frank, shall we? This was not a performance to thrill from any singer less beloved. Though his manner was able and gallant, his sound was dry and strangulated, his great martial aria of Act III rather painful than otherwise. When he sang Gherman in The Queen of Spades in 2004, he still sounded youthful as well as romantic; in this far lighter role he was no longer a pleasure to hear. Only by the final romantic duet with the dying Adriana had he warmed to some beautiful phrases; his sobs were heart-melting and will be, for me, perhaps, a satisfying last vocal effort from the tenor of the Traviata that first made me an opera fan forty-three years ago.

Roberto Frontali made a touching, satisfying Michonnet, and John Del Carlo charmingly (and loudly) occupied the role of the scheming Prince de Bouillon. Marco Armiliato kept a good pace in the pit, allowing the fragrant melodies of this fragile work to bloom sweetly under his care, and supporting the singers nimbly.

John Yohalem

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