Cher Public


kaufmann_gheorghiuI saw the final dress rehearsal of Adriana Lecouvreur at the Royal Opera House on Monday this week, and I think I have never seen the place so crowded for such an event. No wonder, for here was a cast you might dream of, in a highly finished piece of work mounted by one of our finest directors, shown without any perceptible hitch.

And it has all left me thinking very hard about operatic art, and the place of verismo in its history. Like the boulevard theatre, from which so much of it was adapted, it goes in for a lot of thud and blunder (if with bourgeois pretentions) both in its dramaturgy and often in its music, but can stir deep strains and elicit the tenderest feelings (and you will surely be thinking of favourite works, not all by Puccini, which do this).

So, even if some might perceive a danger of lack of directness, I think it will no longer do, popular entertainment having gone on elsewhere and down-market, to treat these old works simply as war-horses… and at this point enter David McVicar, to direct this highly intelligent and supremely gifted team.

“Isn’t it a bit old-fashioned?” a comfortably bland elderly lady asked her companion behind me, at the second interval. I suppose she meant nobody was wearing overcoats, or pushing shopping trolleys, or living under a flyover. Well, it was full of scrupulous period detail, unobtrusively in movement and behaviour, not just pictorially; but it all had the McVicar delicate daring (if I you’ll forgive an oxymoron): a work about a creature of the stage, and itself a product of the stage at its its most labour-intensive and machinistic period, here has a massive permanent but constantly realigning setting showing or evoking the backstage of a theatre, where of course the real drama is, the stage action in the plot being glimpsed through the wings or translucent cloths.

Costumes turn of the (19th) century, then? No, they hark back to the period of the real-life Adrienne Lecouvreur, creating a delicious commentary on the story told by a later composer and librettist to a present-day audience. What could be more intriguing, more piquant, more a propos? Yet all this is done with such a light, swift touch that I bet a lot of the audience don’t even clock it consciously, merely registering its enriching effect.

Prima la musica, though; and it was. From the start Mark Elder provided a luxuriously soft, discreetly high quality, sound mattress, rising (what a picture!- but it should do) to a particularly distinguished prelude to the last act (he must do Thais next). Jonas Kaufmann surely stands head and shoulders above any other contenders for the roles he attempts. Dress rehearsal? Paugh! I can fire on all cylinders before breakfast. And he does; but in the most unassuming way, if you can imagine that. The voice is so smooth and rich, effortlessly surfing the surging music, but with a refinement not usually associated with this genre. Winningly, too, he knows the star role is someone else’s: the perfect vocal gentleman. We know he could outgun the competition, but he doesn’t.

The ladies, oh yes. Cilea cannot give us epic Aida/Amneris tragic poetry, but his music is subtle as well as rousing, and his musical characterisation of his heroine is touching and varied. Closely chased by Anna Netrebko, Angela Gheorghiu surely takes the biscuit for chutzpah these days, and her display was masterly. Totally mistress of her music and her (rightly preeminent) place in the production, she nevertheless made it plain that we were not getting the very last ounce of conserved passion, for she was saving that for the first night; and she toyed with the audience somewhat, making it very clear that she could an’ if she would. All was flawlessly in place, though, and her soft singing (she found a lot of it) was a marvel to hear. She held the stage for the recit de Phedre, too.

Well, she is a flirt, and can do pathos like nobody else these days. I was moved, and I admired. But tragic power? Nelly Miriciou on the other hand, in the concert performance I heard the other year, was rougher, older and therefore not so convincing perhaps as this supposedly untough cookie; but her delivery and presence had a dynamism that was lacking here. Michaela Schuster (soon to be Venus in Tannhauser here) was a more than worthy opponent.

Two other singers were treasurable. The ineffable Alessandro Corbelli was Michonnet. One could imagine the role done by Thomas Allen, who would have been more sympathetically engaging, with that matured vocal honey of his. But this interpretation was most moving in its very plainness, stripped of the vocal and performing tricks one might expect from this master of the buffo. Bonaventura Bottone must not be forgotten either, as the Abbe de Chazeuil. He managed to appear both real and stylistically correct as the sort of tenorino cleric (nudge, nudge) that crops up in so many operas.

Should it all be somewhat rawer, more reckless, less controlled? Hard to say, in the face of such fine product. But marginally, I prefer the more titanic struggle between Miriciou and Rosalind Plowright at the QE Hall… although I would not be without the supreme Kaufmann in my memory bank.

  • MirtoP

    Uh-oh, get ready for a dozen or so posts about how wrong it is to review a dress rehearsal…or is that an Opera-L specialty?

    • That’s opera-l. La Cieca always tags such posts “preview” and “spy” and in fact such snoopery about rehearsals is something of a parterre trademark.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      No, it’s quite popular on here too. In this case, actually, I think there is an extent to which it is warranted, if the reviewer is going to complain about a lack of dynamism and recklessness, since he or she is not in a position to foretell whether such things will be present on opening night.

      It does say very clearly that ginpit is discussing a dress rehearsal, but the fact that the article goes on to make comparisons with an actual real performance seems a touch unfair on the ROH team who were, at the end of the day, rehearsing.

      Still, nice to have a sneak preview -- sounds like it is going to be a great run.

  • manou

    Intermezzo has kindly posted this link to dress photos :

    and she will post more later on her blog.

    You can get a flavour (or a flavor if you are across the pond) of the elegant production.

  • louannd

    Does Angela have an understudy?

    • Feldmarschallin

      probably Angela Gulin or is it Angela Blancas. One of the two.

  • mrmyster

    Angeles Gulin is scheduled to sing one of the December
    performances of Adriana, so obviously she is the cover.
    Mme A. G. will be well advised to sing all her scheduled
    performances; it will help restore her viability as a
    leading performer. She is much vilified for her whims;
    time to overcome that. I agree with the enthusiasm
    of ginpit uk — she can be a truly enchanting
    performer, if she cares to bother :)

    • Krunoslav

      I think Mme. Gulin, who died in 2002, will have a hard time honoring that contract.

      • manou

        So unprofessional…

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        I did get a bit worried when I YouTubed Gulin and found Turandot and Abigaille from 30 years ago, thinking that it didn’t really promise much in the way of morbidezza at the ROH over the next few weeks.

        Blancas Gulin’s Trav from 2000 is pretty impressive though.

        • peter

          Angeles Gulin sang exactly one performance at the Met and that was Elena in Vespri in 1983. She was already past her prime (the top was a mess) but I have to say it was the biggest sound I’ve ever heard in an opera house.

          • Krunoslav

            I was there and it was horrible- from everyone execpt a few quieter moments from Pablo Elvira, She could barely get above the staff and had no idea of projectiong any character . Loud and unfocused. I think I heard Gwyenth sing louder, but that’s it.

          • richard

            I never hear mama Gulin but I recall from my earliest opera going days that reviews from the late 60s on always seemed to comment on “intonation problems” in reviewing her performances.

          • Regina delle fate

            Hear, hear! I only heard Mme Gulin once, as a Gioconda in Berlin who drowned out Domingo’s Enzo and Livia Budai’s Laura effortlessly. She was a big, fat lady with a big, fat voice. Not much subtlety, but hey, you don’t hear voices like that often. Only Gwyneth in her prime could have outsung her in terms of volume.

          • phoenix

            Trash her all you want… but I loved her. Yes, it was a tidal-wave of a sound & not very subtle by 1983, but she was what they said she was… and even more.

        • Believe me, the voice has travelled A LOT and you DO NOT WANT to see AB Gulin in her recent vocal state.

          I’ve posted this a few weeks ago and am very happy to re-post for your general edification

          • OUUUUPS wrong link --

            This is GULIN

          • louannd

            I was going to say Angela B G = hotness but then she began to sing. Never mind.

          • manou


            Let’s start a fund to buy her some underwear.

            Also singing lessons.

          • richard

            Oh, that was sad!

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Oh yikes, that Gulin clip is scary. When you posted it a few weeks ago I thought she was some random enthusiastic amateur -- I failed to make the connection.

            Increasingly glad I’ve booked for Gheorghiu, now I just have to hope she’s in the mood to honour her engagements.

          • But don’t you people see the dramatic commitment, never mind the flowers strewn on the stage?

      • Will

        This is her daughter who has appeared in the somewhat recent past with the Opera Orchestra of New York under the name Angeles Blancas Gulin, a good looking lady with a nice voice and a killer tattoo on one shoulder blade that she doesn’t mind showing on formal occasions when wearing a backless evening gown.

      • mrmyster

        So who is the Gulin listed in ROH web site?

        • manou

          Angeles Blancas Gulin

        • Regina delle fate

          Angeles Blancas Gulin is the daughter of the Angeles Gulin (and presumably a Senor Blancas) who died in 2002.

  • manou

    Did anyone else see the 2002 Holland Park production, also with Plowright as the Principessa, and Christine Bunning as Adriana?

    Does this warm your heart, Vicar?

    • What, Jo Barstow wasn’t available?

      • MontyNostry

        I saw that 2002 production at Holland Park. Bunning did a decent job, but a diva she wasn’t. Plowright was impressive — as she was a couple of years ago in a concert performance with Miricioiu, who was rather wonderful. Best-phrased ‘al nuovo di morra’ I’ve ever heard: big crescendo on ‘di’, big diminuendo at the end of ‘morra’.

    • Camille

      Christine Bunning as Adriana?

      That sounds cast by Oscar Wilde-LOL!

    • Regina delle fate

      I’d totally forgotten that performance. Christine Bunning -- whatever happened to her? Thank goodness she never sang at the Met or she would have attained Parterre immortality.

  • MontyNostry

    Just got back from the first night of Adriana. An entertaining evening, but it is worrying when the prima donna has the smallest voice on the stage.

    Ange just doesn’t have grandezza, and the role does need some of that. Her girlishness — attractive initially, and appropriate for aspects of the character — palls after a while and the last act felt like Traviata. Much artistry on display, but she gets too physically and vocally fussy when she emotes. It would be nice to have more stillness from her.

    Kaufmann sang beautifully, but — at least from where I was sitting — the voice itself didn’t sound as splendid as usual. Schuster was sound as the Principessa, but the role needs a meatier voice and more diva presence — it didn’t help that she was rather dowdily begowned and bewigged, though the costumes generally were a highlight of the show. The most engaging performance overall came from Alessandro Corbelli as Michonnet, and his voice had the most presence too, believe it or not. Mark Elder’s conducting was sensitive and stylish and the orchestra sounded glamorous.
    The production, set firmly in the 18th century, looked good, provided few insights (though it’s not really a piece for great insights) and, apart from some amorous mauling for Ange and Jo, and some feeling-up of Mlle Duclos by the Principe, it was generally pretty decorous.

    • manou
      • Regina delle fate

        Hmm so prima donnas from Joan Sutherland to Rénée Fleming scrambled to sing Adriana, eh? Didn’t the blessed St Joanie wait until rather late in the day before she took it on, and has La Voce sung it yet? Surely she will wait until she’s near to retirement before she scrambles to sing Adriana. She’s done the arias, of course.

        • MontyNostry

          … and who would ever describe Joanie and Renaaay as ‘dramatic sopranos’. Still, Birgit was really a lyric coloratura, as we know.

          • Regina delle fate

            Indeed Monty -- clearly he’s London’s answer to the one-and-only TT.

        • Harry

          Joan S. was about 60 when she performed it, on stage. I saw a telecast of it and it was unfortunately laughable. The skyscraper head-dress she wore! I still remember it.. The Decca recording she made with a very ancient Bergonzi….true parterre risible trash material. I smiled, watching all the true Joannie addict fans either running back to record shops returning it or treating it like bubonic plague.

          • MontyNostry

            I haven’t heard Joanie in the part, but I can’t imagine it was ever really her. For a start, I’ve always felt that floaty lines were one of the few things she never quite had in her formidable vocal armoury, and they are an essential component of the role.

      • NYCOQ

        Well you can tell from the flimsy “I will give some historical points of reference and mention opera singers that you know” portion that the reviewer isn’t necessarily an opera fan, let alone well versed in this opera. Anything after “JS & La Voce were scrambling to perform this role (sic)” sort of negates the rest of the review.

        • manou

          NYCOQ :

          also an ethnomusicoligist….
          (hope you are impressed)

          • NYCOQ

            Nice resume. I guess that article was one of those “how many more words do I have to write? Oh adding something about Joanie, La Voce, Caruso & Domingo’s RECITAL ALBUM will get me to my quota”. I too have been guilty of uninspired writing on lots of occasions. I was just turned off by the first few paragraphs which made me negate what he had to say about the actual peformance.

          • manou

            Interesting to read (further down) his comments on the Hytner production of Don Carlo about to open at the Met.

    • Camille

      Thank you very much for your report, as I do appreciate your fair-minded equanimity and clear eyed good judgment.


      • MontyNostry

        Je vous en prie, Camille.

    • Santa di Patria

      I thought she was good when she had to be beautiful and wilting, and also in the child-like moments, but useless when she had to be biting and furious. No grandezza indeed. It’s the kind of piece that actually demands overacting (and indeed oversinging) to make the right effect -- that is part of the style and the tradition in which it was composed. You need to chew the furniture to distract from the fact that the furniture is a bit threadbare. Tasteful decorousness doesn’t go far enough, and Gheorghiu hasn’t thrown caution to the winds since about 1998, in my experience…

      • manou
      • MontyNostry

        Grazie, Santa. It’s always reassuring to know if other people were also underwhelmed. I am always afraid I am being crusty and ungrateful. It doesn’t help that her voice is basically so soft-grained.

        How did Margaret Price do in the role, I wonder? I heard a broadcast from Munich in about 1984, but obviously can’t remember much about it.

        • MontyNostry

          .. and I am writing as a big fan of Price (M) — and Price (L), of course. Does the Vicar remember Janet Price?

          • Regina delle fate

            Haha, Monty. Janet Price was a stalwart of WNO and Kent Opera -- I saw her as Ilia with the Welsh and Elettra for Kent at Sadlers Wells -- in the 1970s and some of the early Opera Rara recordings. Let’s hope she didn’t prevent Beverly Sills from singing Il crociato in Egitto at the Met.

          • peter

            And then there’s Janet Perry, an American soprano who was a lovely Nanetta on the 2nd Von Karajan Falstaff recording.

          • and a very very good Adele (not an easy role) under Kleiber fils in Munich.

  • mrmyster

    I was hoping by now the Vicar of Wakefield would have
    stepped in to advise on casting. Surely he has some ideas?!
    Just thank your stars the ROH mounting was sung in Italian
    and not English. Can you imagine those lines in English?

  • The Vicar of John Wakefield

    Commonwealth Artist Rosamund Illing as Adrienne.

    Plowright as the Princess- but let’s make the “Boullion” into Bovril’s.

    Antony Mee could have a go at the Saxon person.

  • mrmyster

    Nothing for Walter Midgely?
    Nothing for Derek Hammond-Stroud (who is the world’s
    definitive von Faninal)?
    Violets from Constance Spry in South Audley Street?

  • spiderman

    well, does angie have the dementia and balls of this lady?

    (and i am not even dare to look back a few years more)

  • Morning quiz: what do these photographs have to do with the subject of this thread?

    • SF Guy

      Dream of Love (1928) with Joan Crawford and NIls Asther, is a loose (VERY loose) adaptation of the same Scribe/Legouve play that’s the basis for Adrianna’s libretto.

    • Camille

      I love these stills! Where in blazes did U find it and what does the storyline retain of the original? Does JC die? Or does she just drink a Pepsi as antidote?

      • Adrienne, a Gypsy girl performing in a traveling carnival, is unable to find true love for herself until she makes the acquaintance of Prince Maurice. They fall in love, but must part when, for diplomatic reasons, the prince is called upon to make love to the rich wife of an influential duke. Adrienne later becomes a popular stage actress and again meets the prince. Coincidentally, she’s appearing in a play which resembles the sad story of her earlier relationship with the prince. Maurice, meanwhile, is struggling to win his throne from a usurping dictator. With Adrienne’s help, he dodges an assassination attempt and becomes king.

        “The settings for this production are lavish and so are the costumes. There are dozens of men in smart officers’ uniforms and Miss Pringle does well with the Duchess’s gowns and sparkling skull caps…. Joan Crawford is charming as the humble singer, who wins stage laurels and subsequently admits her love for the Prince.” -- New York Times

        • Camille

          That’s me (clad in white fox fur) in the arms of my love whilst jealous Nay-Nay (in her old Susannah getup) stares jealously upon us.
          Tant pis pour elle!

  • manou
    • peter

      I love the last line of the Telegraph review:
      “I came away feeling that I had spent three hours sucking on boiled sweets.”

      • MontyNostry

        Andrew Clements in The Guardian, like Michael Church earlier in this thread, unfortunately seems to know Fach-all about voice types, though … “Yet there are just enough effective set pieces for dramatic sopranos to want to take on the title role.” When can we look forward to Ange’s Elektra?

        • ginpit uk

          Just don’t bring Lulu.

    • ginpit uk

      Well, was I right, or was I right?
      Up to a point Lord Copper~ for it seems the consensus is that Gheorghiu was holding nothing in reserve when I saw her.

      Yes, I know that’s not really the point, and there’s such a thing as ethical behaviour in writing about rehearsals at all. But hey, I’m a new kid on this blog…………