Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Angela Gheorghiu as Adriana Lecouvreur [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera]
21 Nov 2010

Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera

Two months into the current season, after a string of so-so revivals and a curiosity which deserved to be box-office dynamite but wasn’t, the Royal Opera has finally got round to a star-studded new production.

Francesco Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur

Adriana Lecouvreur: Angela Gheorghiu, Ángeles Blancas Gulín; Maurizio: Jonas Kaufmann; The Prince of Bouillon: Maurizio Muraro: The Princess of Bouillon: Michaela Schuster, Olga Borodina; Michonnet: Alessandro Corbelli; L'Abbate di Chazeuil: Bonaventura Bottone; Poisson: Iain Paton; Quinault: David Soar; Madame Jouvenot: Janis Kelly; Madame Dangeville: Sarah Castle. Conductor: Mark Elder. Director: David McVicar. Set designs: Charles Edwards. Costume designs: Brigitte Reiffenstuel. Lighting design: Adam Silverman. Choreography: Andrew George.

Above: Angela Gheorghiu as Adriana Lecouvreur

All photos by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera

 

Despite Adriana Lecouvreur being something of a rarity in the UK, having been absent from the stage of Covent Garden for more than a century, the prospect of Angela Gheorghiu taking on the title role for the first time was more than enough to justify the risk — though it is perhaps a sign of the times that it is a co-production with four other international houses, the largest number of collaborators I can ever recall seeing in an opera programme.

If I were producing an opera about theatre and actors, David McVicar is precisely who I would engage to direct it, given his knack for injecting opulent theatricality into the most naturalistic of dramatic situations. And if nobody had told me that this was one of his, it wouldn’t have been difficult to guess. The hallmarks were all there — the vast crowd of supernumeraries, the stage clutter, and Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s deconstructed-Baroque dance costumes to name but a few — but this time McVicar has gone one step, if not many steps further in the name of making a point about the nature of theatre and artifice.

ADRIANA-2442-0867-KAUFMANN-.gifJonas Kaufmann as Maurizio

It was heaven for a geek like me, thanks to the sheer number of references to other shows — maybe a natural progression from the score itself. Cilea was a contemporary of Puccini and Massenet, and most of the aural reminders are from this milieu, but Act 4 in particular evokes a wider range of influences. In McVicar’s staging, a balletomane friend of mine who attended the dress rehearsal picked up on direct references (costumes and choreographic devices) within the Act 3 ballet to Royal Ballet productions of La fille mal gardée, Invitus Invitam and Sylvia. The chorus crowded into their onstage audience-seating much as they did in McVicar’s Alcina for ENO in 1999; then, a marble bust of Handel dominated the stage; here the bust was Moliere’s. It was interesting that of all his own works, this was the one McVicar chose to reference; another opera about the blurred boundary between theatre and reality.

With Charles Edwards’s set dominated by a large box which for much of the opera served as a full-height, fully-formed stage-within-a-stage, the production seemed determined to underline that we were the audience, and what was happening before us was not reality. The mostly naturalistic scenery was garnished with little touches of artificiality; vividly ornate interiors, for example, were finished off not with heavy velvet draperies, but with curtains painted onto wooden flats. Even Act 2, whose stage directions contain no overt references to a theatrical setting, appeared to be taking place on a stage, with the men in particular giving a stylised feel to their entrances and exits. Only in Act 4 was this extra level of artifice dispensed with; though the spectre of the stage continued to loom large over Adriana, it was a bare shell, and suddenly (the ludicrous business of the poisoned violets notwithstanding) it was all a lot more immediate and credible.

So what of the much-hyped cast? Gheorghiu may not be an immediately obvious ‘humble handmaid of art’ but she was poised and charming, playing a very youthful version of this heroine who historically has been associated with the ageing diva. Her voice is very much on the small side given the scoring, and for the intimacy of the first and last acts (which frame Adriana’s two celebrated arias) it was often exquisite. But in the confrontation with the Princesse de Bouillon and again in her vengeful Phèdre monologue, Gheorghiu was a kitten when a tigress was needed. I can’t quite picture how she will hold her own when the role of the Princesse transfers to the mighty Olga Borodina later in the run.

Jonas Kaufmann always seemed on the edge of something spectacular, and the contained restraint with which he treats his large, dark-coloured voice would have been massively exciting had it been part of a broad palette. As it was, he seemed to be trying to demonstrate that a hot-blooded verismo hero can be sung with subtlety and intelligence, while also showing off some of his remarkable technical skill (particularly in his legato, and once, memorably, his impeccable ability to diminuendo on a top note). It was very, very impressive — but all too careful, too measured. It seemed a studied effort in avoiding stereotype (or perhaps he was reining himself in to avoid overpowering Gheorghiu) but I longed for him to let rip.

ADRIANA-2442-1841-SCHUSTER&.gif- Michaela Schuster as Princesse De Bouillon and Bonaventura Bottone as Abbé De Chazeuil

Michaela Schuster was a dramatically-committed if somewhat vocally undisciplined Princesse, though it was a misjudgement (probably the director’s) to have her exchange with Adriana in Act 3 played partly for laughs, which diminished the impact. Alone among the major principals, Alessandro Corbelli — as Adriana’s unrequited admirer, Michonnet — was alone in painting a full and touching character portrait.

Much of the interest, and there was plenty, came from the supporting characters. Janis Kelly (Mlle. Jouvenot) and Sarah Castle (Mlle. Dangeville) sparked off one another in Act 1 in an impeccably-judged battle of wills; Bonaventura Bottone (the Abbé de Chazueil) and Maurizio Muraro (the Prince de Bouillon) gave nicely-detailed character portraits in a production which made them quite stylised and more than a little camp.

Mark Elder’s conducting displayed many of the same characteristics as Kaufmann’s singing — lovely, delicate, but for this repertoire far too careful and finely-crafted. On opening night the Gheorghiu and Kaufmann fans were out in force, with every aria met with cheers. But for me, a bit less decorum and a lot more scenery-chewing, both on stage and in the pit, would have served the opera better, and improved a promising performance in a lovingly-crafted production immeasurably.

Ruth Elleson © 2010

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):