Barbara, Richard, and I saw *Adriana Lecouvreur* at the Met on 1/16/19. I’m seeing seven or eight things at the Met this season and this was the thing I was most looking forward to. It’s an opera I’ve never seen before, isn’t done very often, and a new production starring two singers I’ve loved for years, soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Piotr Beczała, and a singer I’m just starting to love, Anita Rachvelishvili.
It’s an opera by Francesco Cilea from 1902. The three main characters are all based on real-life people: Adrienne Lecouvreur was a star actress of the Comédie Française, a muse of Voltaire, and a trailblazer for a more naturalistic method of performance. Her boyfriend Maurice de Saxe was a sexy military man (he wore a golden earring, can you imagine) and the acknowledged illegitimate son of the King of Poland. The third point of the triangle is the Duches of Bouillon, a Polish noblewoman married to a French duke. She really did devise a few plots to kill her rival, Adrienne, but none of them involved a bouquet of poisoned violets (the method used in the opera).
You need three great singers to make this opera work, but the soprano is really the star of the show and you need a singer of great charisma and power to make it work. Netrebko is just the ticket, she was having a major diva trip, which is what we’re there for! Here she is doing her meltingly beautiful entrance aria (all of these clips are from the current Met production, by the way):
I’ve been crazy for Netrebko since I first heard her in 2007. She’s an extraordinary artist. I’m a little troubled by something I hear in her voice lately - - it’s not unusual for a singer’s voice to become darker and thicker as they age, and she’s now 47. so she’s at a turning point in her career. A few friends feel that she’s artificially darkening her voice, which is a dangerous thing to do, it could lead to decreased flexibility and range. Maybe I’m hearing her through rose-colored earmuffs, but I don’t hear that. I was bothered, in this role (though not in *Aida* this fall), that she was singing in an overly lugubrious manner. This opera needs indulgence, but maybe not to this degree.
The high point of her performance was her recited monologue in Act III. She’s performing at a sort of gala, her rival, the mezzo, is in the front row, and Adriana delivers the end of the monologue directly to her. Scathing!
Tenor Piotr Beczała was just plain dreamy. Such glorious, rich, delicious singing, so full of ardor, so full of brio. He played the role with a lovely balance of full throttle Romanticism and touching sincerity. Here he is singing “L’amina ho stanca”:
I first heard mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili in *Aida* this fall, and wow, she is the real deal! A genuine dramatic mezzo - - gorgeous voice, power and flexibility throughout her range, full of energy. One of the most exciting things a mezzo can do is plunge into her chest voice, and a dramatic mezzo should be able to really wallow down there and pump it out. If Opera News were to give out a Greg Louganis Award for daring plunges into chest voice, it would go to her! Here she is singing her entrance aria, “Acerba voluttà, dolce tortura:”
I’ll mention one more performer, baritone Ambrogio Maestri as Michonnet, the stage manager of the theater (who is of course in love with Adriana). He played the role with such sweetness and charm, it was a nice antidote to the high-powered diva attitude surrounding him.
This is a new production, directed by David McVicar. who has done nine productions at the Met in nine years. I'm not sure that's a record (maybe Zeffirelli did something similar in his heyday), but it sure is notable. Just as notable, Richard and I have seen eight of them! This was his typical mixture of intelligence and opulence, meaningful relationships between the characters, insight into the drama, and always something nice to look at. My favorite touch: the first, third, and fourth acts all take place in a theater. The second act takes places at the mezzo's home, and it looks like a stage! It really drives home the fact that they're all playing a role, even in their offstage lives.
Barbara said, “This is the first opera I’ve seen here where I haven’t been blown away by the orchestra!” Conductor Gianandrea Noseda certainly did a fine job, but the sad truth is that the orchestra writing isn’t terribly refined. They’re basically there to accompany the singers, they don’t really carry the music in the way they would in a Verdi or Wagner opera (the last opera Barbara and I saw was *Otello,* where the orchestra is a real star). This opera’s orchestration is heavy on sequins, feathers, and gauze, with a prominent part for the harp. Of course this is delightful, but it’s not high art.
The thing we have to remember is that operas were the movies of their time, especially in Italy. There was a constant stream of new operas, full of drama and audience-pleasing moments, but they weren’t all works of genius. This opera has stood the test of time, and I’m glad to have seen it, but it’s not Verdi (nor should I expect it to be).