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A Melodrama With Some Added Drama

New York
The Metropolitan Opera
02/06/2009 -  & February 10, 13, 17, 21, 25, 28, 2009
Francesco Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur
Maria Guleghina (Adriana), Olga Borodina (Principessa), Plácido Domingo (Maurizio), Roberto Frontali (Michonnet), Jennifer Black (Mlle. Jouvenot), Reveka Evangelia Mavrovitis (Mlle. Dangeville), Bernard Fitch (Abbé), Brian Frutiger (Poisson), John Del Carlo (Prince), Philip Cokorinos (Quinault), Joseph Turi (Major-Domo), Kfir Danieli (Paris), Christine McMillan (Athena), Emery Lecrone (Aphrodite), Eric Otto (Mercury), Elyssa Dole (Hero)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus, Donald Palumbo (Chorus Master), Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Marco Armiliato (Conductor)
Mark Lamos (Staging), C.M. Cristini, after sketches by Camilo Parravicini (Set Designer), Ray Diffen (Costume Designer), Jane Greenwood (Additional Costumes), Sergei Gritsai (Choreographer)

(© Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera)

In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, the American baseball player with a knack for mangling the English language, “It was déjà vu all over again.”

In 1968, a young tenor named Plácido Domingo was set to make his Metropolitan Opera debut as Maurizio in Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. In the days leading up to the big event, he was very busy -- a foretaste of his career since then -- performing in two roles at the New York City Opera, next door, and also standing in for the Met’s star tenor at the Turandot rehearsals. At 7:30 PM on September 28th, four days before his scheduled debut, Domingo received an emergency telephone call from the Met. Franco Corelli was unwell. Come now! Domingo jumped into his car, vocalizing on the way. The opera began twenty minutes late. His debut was a triumph.

His latest operatic rescue of the Met’s Adriana was even more remarkable. This season, Domingo now 68, was scheduled to conduct the opera, in a revival of a production not seen in the house for fifteen years. Again, there was a tenor who was not available. Salvatore Licitra withdrew from the lead role in the Met’s new production of Il Trovatore. Marcelo Alvarez, who had been scheduled to sing Maurizio in Adriana, was drafted to replace Licitra. Once more, Domingo stepped into the breach.

The atmosphere at the Met on Friday evening was electric. The audience was clearly on Domingo’s side. It seemed to take him a while to warm up. While Domingo sang Maurizio’s first aria, “Perché sincero amor,” with power and a lovely legato line, his voice lacked the sheer vocal beauty that we have come to expect from him. Before the performance, he said he was going to transpose some of his music down to fit the deeper, darker range that his voice has taken on in recent years. His voice improved steadily during the performance. He gave us some lovely ringing top notes in act two, but he really hit is stride in the third act.

Cilea’s libretto was based on the life of Adrienne Lecouvreur, a famous 18th century French actress, who had an affair with one of Louis XV’s generals, Maurice de Saxe. In the opera, Adriana has a passionate, vicious and determined rival for Maurizio’s affection, the Principessa, sung by the extraordinary Olga Borodina. When Maurizio switches his romantic allegiance from her to Adriana, she is consumed by jealousy and a desire for revenge. He murder weapon is rather unorthodox; she sends Adrianna a bouquet of poisoned violets and Adriana dies in Maurizio’s arms. Cilea’s opera is hardly a masterpiece, but it has maintained its appeal as a star vehicle for sopranos. Tebaldi sang Adriana in the 1963 production (reprising it opposite Domingo five years later). It is a tour de force role but it must have just the right soprano to pull it off.

In this production, Adriana was sung by Maria Guleghina. She demonstrated the power and dramatic force that we have come to expect of her, but her voice did seem rather harsh at times. Both she and Domingo were at their vocal and dramatic best in the third act.

The vocal star of the evening was Olga Borodina. On stage, she was virtually an elemental force. With her dark mezzo voice and superb acting ability, she painted a compelling musical portrait of a woman determined to fight to the death (Adriana’s, not hers) to win back her man. The highlight of her performance was her act two aria, “Acerba volutta (What bitter desire).

The smaller roles were well acted and well-sung. Roberto Frotali as Michonnet, turned in a touching portrayal of unrequited. Bernard Fitch, as the abbé, was a deft comedian.

The Met Orchestra, under the baton of Marco Armiliato, was splendid,bringing out the jewels in a mainly undistinguished score. The, by now, ancient production had elegant rococo touches. The new production team livened things up with projections on the screen at the back of the stage. Three images stand out – Adriana’s view from the stage of the Comédie Française, the beautiful sky that accompanies Borodina’s second act aria, and the enormous bouquet of violets in act three.

Domingo and Guleghina did their best work in the third act. Cradling the dying Adriana in his arms, Domingo was in top lyrical and dramatic form. Maurizio’s heartbroken sob is the last sound we hear as the curtain goes down. This was a moment to savor and we did.

Arlene Judith Klotzko



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