Headshot of La Cieca

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See the pretty diva in that mirror there

The diva must be a Diva in Adriana Lecouvreur. Fact. Certainly Cilea’s music is sumptuous if not subtle, and Colautti’s libretto colorful if not always coherent. But you absolutely need a prima donna that has captivated the audience before they even enter the theatre. If the role, more often than not, is sung by sopranos at the end of their careers, it would scarcely carry much clout for a fresher-voiced unknown.

Perhaps Angela Gheorghiu is not always a perfect vocal fit for Adriana in this Royal Opera House performance from 2010, but she wears the role like a couture gown.

Like Tebaldi before her at the Met, Gheorghiu convinced the Royal Opera House to mount the opera for her – unlike Ponselle, who left the Met after being denied a production. Relying on one singer this heavily is certainly not without risk. Tebaldi canceled most of her run due to vocal crisis, and in his memoirs, Bing spills more venom on Adriana than any other debacle in his tenure.

This is the kind of opera that tends to polarize: it boasts gorgeous melodies with endless high notes, as well ridiculous plot devices that would make the writers of any daytime soap blush. Based very, very loosely on historical figures, Adriana is a Parisian actress who is in love with a tall dark stranger named Maurizio. As it turns out, he is also having an affair with a (married) Princess to finance his political and military ambitions as the pretender to the Polish throne.

After lots of intrigues involving darkened rooms, locked doors, and mistaken identities, Adriana and the Princess have a showdown at the theatre (following the Act III ballet, naturally). Fast forward to Adriana’s birthday, and the actress is in a foul mood, which only worsens when she gets a present from Maurizio returning some flowers she had given him.

Only it turns out that Maurizio had regifted them to the Princess, who had sprinkled some poison on them, and then sent them back to Adriana. This is all far too much for even Adriana, and after a lovely aria, a gorgeous duet, and a bit of a mad scene, she expires in Maurizio’s arms.

Gheorghiu’s identification with the role is clear throughout. Her acting, emphatic, unrestrained, and stemming from an age before HD, creates a woman with a tenuous grasp on the boundaries between the stage and reality. The music sounds particularly beautiful in her voice, albeit lacks the ideal heft; even on DVD she sounds underpowered in the low passages. But she caresses the phrases, and the high notes float effortlessly over the orchestra. This is music that she loves, and she basks unashamedly in the role.

If this is a diva showcase, we are given a supporting cast that is even more tantalizing. Jonas Kaufmann delivers not only a vocally seductive performance, but perhaps one of the most in-depth portrayals of Maurizio on record. He understands the sleazy ambiguity of the political manipulator, a man who has all the women in his pocket, but is really only in love with his political ambitions.

Next to Gheorghiu, his interpretation seems practically naturalistic, and he has a knack for using the score to motive his physical movements. His signature darkly-hued tone suggests a man that is weighing every word, and never revealing his true face to anybody. The high notes – in particular the stunning pianissimi – are the real money shots, and leave no doubt as to why he is in such demand.

A princess from the moment she steps onto the stage, Olga Borodina  captivates the eye even when she moves very little. Vocally, she keeps her large mezzo under tight control, spinning out a powerful wall of sound that remains beautifully centered. This is a woman to fear, but also one that deserves pity.

Alessandro Corbelli is a sympathetic Michonnet, a role that serves mostly as an observer despite some half-explained side plots involving poisons and diamonds. He has the unusual capacity to deliver a character role convincingly while actually singing the notes in the score. The voice has a burnished, friendly tone that serves as a dash of reason in this ornate confection. The rest of the supporting cast is equally adept, creating fun little moments that add beautifully to the melodrama.

Pulling everything together is Mark Elder at the podium. Despite the convoluted libretto, the score is no cakewalk for a conductor. The tempi and time signatures are constantly changing abruptly with the swelling of emotions, and Elder does a magnificent job keeping everybody together. After the last chords fade, the camera catches him mouthing a heartfelt “thank you” to the orchestra.

David McVicar manages to carve a narrative out the convoluted intrigues of Adriana with clarity. This is a reading filled with imagination, managing to avoid both the Regie and the Traditional camps without settling for a dingy compromise. The production team appears to have worked remarkably cohesively on this – a short documentary about the production shows a unity of vision that is reflected in the staging.

Dominating Charles Edwards’ set design is a baroque theatre that is used both as a literal theatre, and as a metaphor for the melodramatic antics of the characters. Brigitte Reiffenstuel creates beautiful period costumes, although they tend towards the overwrought in a ballet sequence that is already one of the weaker moments in the production.

Adriana has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, next to the paperback pulp novels and the plastic box of Ferrero Rocher. Delicious, unnutritious, and perfect for a moment of respite on a rainy afternoon. This DVD is the perfect choice to curl up with and enjoy unabashedly: a stellar cast, a staging that is clever without being pretentious, and a cast that is clearly enjoying every moment of the production.

104 comments

  • manou says:

    Merci cher Rory (the predictive text prefers Merck Cher Rory). Nice to hear from you.

  • zinka says:

    I refuse to buy any Angela material..(Want her cd’s???) since she is almost inaudible…..so these dvd’s are fake……

    • Clita del Toro says:

      Yeah, you had the same problem with Jussi. Perhaps you should have you hearing checked. Lol. Loud does not necessarily =good.

      • grimoaldo says:

        “Zinka” has also been insisting on various opera forums for at least ten years to my knowledge that you couldn’t hear Leontyne Price.
        I have seen Angela numerous times in London and San Francisco as Violetta, Marguerite, Magda La Rondine, Amelia Grimaldi, Juliette, and heard her loud and clear every time, not only was there not the slightest problem hearing her every note, it did not even occur to me that there was a hint of a problem with anyone being able to hear her.
        Did not see the Adriana however.
        Angela is great.

        • OpinionatedNeophyte says:

          I think I just realized who that cray-cray Youtube poster who appears on every Leontyne Price video is…thanks again parterre.

          • luvtennis says:

            I don’t think that’s Zinka. There is another poster from OperaL who I suspect is the culprit.

            Frankly, it is not worth fighting about. In truth, as more of those MET recordings are released, Lee’s legacy grows.

            I was listening to the MET Tosca and a live recording of the Ballo with Bergonzi. It is amazing, but Lee is very nearly as perfect live as she was in the studio. It’s almost laughable. Wonder how she did that….

            BTW, I have been listening to a lot of Tebaldi and Zinka lately. And I have concluded that their recordings simply do not capture what made them special (with very rare exceptions).

            My biggest problem with Renata is simple -- she sings everything soooooo slowly. More damagingly, her singing line always seems to meander. I so rarely hear her take command of the music. She always seems to be reacting to it, passive almost in her approach to music making. Perhaps it is her sense of rhythm? SHe can certainly be very forceful during obviously dramatic moments in the libretto, but she rarely finds the drama in the MUSIC.

            Clita: Did you get this impression of her live?

    • armerjacquino says:

      This is what always happens when Gheorghiu is discussed here. Loads of people give their personal experiences of having heard her perfectly well from the back of huge opera houses, then someone ignores all that and says, definitively, ‘she’s inaudible, of course’. Same with Bartoli.

      • PushedUpMezzo says:

        True on all counts. The only time I have heard her right through was a Boheme in Vienna about 5 years back. Still a great vocal artist, ditto Cecilia. It’s all about using what the Good Lord gave you…..

      • SilvestriWoman says:

        First of all, I’m not ragging on Cecilia. That said, when did she last sing in a house of at least 1,500 seats? Zurich appears to be her favored house, yet it’s quite small, at least by American standards. If memory serves, it’s been some time since she sang at the Met.

      • La Cieca says:

        Well, there is inaudible and inaudible. In solo passages, expeciially those either lightly underscored or else fairly high in tessitura, Barolti’s voice projects well. In ensembles, not so much. At the Met, she sang La Cenerentola opposite Ramon Vargas, and in their first act duet she was in fact mostly inaudible when they were singing in sixths and thirds.

        Gheorghiu varies. There are some nights when she seems to mark the first act or two and even though she is mostly audible, the voice seems very faint and distant. Fortunately, even on this sort of night, she generally lets the voice out more in the second half of the opera, for example the big ensemble in Traviata act 2 and then the last act.

        Other nights Gheorghiu gives rather more earlier on, though even then there are odd lines here and there that sort of recede.

        What this amounts to is that Bartoli has made much of her career in mezzo roles in which the tessitura centers on a relatively weak part of her voice; Gheorghiu’s voice has a sort of ethereal, veiled quality that is wonderfully haunting but often lacks the bright edge that helps a lyric voice make an impact in a big theater.

        • messa di voce says:

          AG has become increasingly stingy as a performer, both vocally and emotionally.

        • rapt says:

          Wow! I think both LaCieca and Poisonivy have done an amazing job of capturing the quality of a voice with precision and clarity, usually left to the single, stock, one-size-fits-all adjective (Nordic gleam, anyone?) or to subjective fantasias (by which I don’t mean that responses to voices aren’t always subjective, but that efforts to describe them can seem to degenerate into uses of language that seem largely private). What models to follow!

      • poisonivy says:

        Gheorghiu the times I’ve heard her isn’t “inaudible.” She just chooses to mark the more “unimportant” parts of the score, and saves her voice for what she considers are the money moments. She does have some trouble warming up, and her opening aria is usually somewhat muffled, but basically, I think she just conserves her voice to the point where it’s like marking.

        But on the other hand, there’s something appealing and sexy about the soft, whispery quality of her marking. It’s like … the vocal equivalent of bedroom eyes. It’s like you strain harder to hear her, sort of the way you would lower and soften your voice towards a lover. Can’t describe it, but it’s sexy.

  • Baltsamic Vinaigrette says:

    Camille, when it comes to strawberries, the silver- or gold-topped bottles of aceto balsamico are yer only man. Failing this I simply grind some good ol’ pepe nero over them. [Cream, never]. The price differential is ginormous, granted -- a teeny-tiny bottle of the dusky nectar costing more than many a Bordeaux cru classé; but, following my recent Italy trip* I am stocked up on both, the pepper coming from a Conad supermarket in Magione near Lake Trasimeno, Umbria and the vinegar from -- where better? -- Fratelli Tamburini in Bologna. We only grow gooseberries and redcurrants in our garden, but strawberries are easily sourced around here (and they are a Wexford speciality to boot).

    *I await word from Ercole as we must compare notes over the alternate casts for the Firenze Traviata in late June -- not to mention the demonstrations (yes, plural) against work practices at the Teatro Comunale. Such, er, fun!

    • Camille says:

      Balsamico,
      Very kind and accommodating of you to provide me with these tips regarding the silver and the gold — of course, now that your bring it to mind a vague recollection does seem to re=assert itself.

      You sound like an awful lot of fun to me, and please do say hullo to that dear man, Ercole Farnese, from me if you compare notes.
      Would you mind tucking me into your picque-nicque basket to Wexford, along with your truffes? You sound just like the perfect opera=going chum to me, and, If you like, I shall oblige by bringing along an assortment of Mrs. See’s, specter of my girlhood.

      Hopefully, Camille

      PS — Can you advise me on the BEST Irish WhiskEy??? I usually have bought Bushmills………

      • Baltsamic Vinaigrette says:

        Salvé Camille!

        Let me insist that I am a mere wino through and through; however I defer to Those In The Know who assure me that Bushmills (I now understand being pronounced Bush MILLS rather than BUSH mills as I always understood) is a leader, especially their Black Bush.

        Diehard republicans will insist on Dublin’s own Jameson’s. I am slightly acquainted and inclined to agree. However the apparently unhip Power’s is a fruity gem and frequent taste-test champ, and if you want to flash the cash, then it’s either Green Spot (the best way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at a whiskey aficionado friend’s house) or else the wonderful Midleton Very Rare from east County Cork.

        For now I cannot quite bring myself to endorse Tullamore Dew, as it is no longer distilled in my old County Offaly home town; however the distillery seven miles up the road in Kilbeggan, County Westmeath, has been re-opened lately. As you might imagine, anything from there gets a sentimental vote from me; indeed I had a glass at the astonishing Pavilhao Chines on Lisbon’s Rua Dom Pedro (Bairro Alto) back in March. And word up is that Tullamore wants to distil whiskey again and is seeking planning permission -- I’ll keep you (and Neuhaus) posted!

        We will discuss Wexford again -- would LOVE to link up with you, or indeed many a Parterriano (if not quite all of us!!) should the opportunity arise… x

        • Camille says:

          O glory be and Erin go Bragh!!!

          I will never say BUSHmills again, as these ignorant Yanks have taught me to!

          If you are ever in NYC for St. Paddy’s Day, I shall escort you to Frank McCourt’s favourite watering hole which flows a river of rather dégoutante green beer on that hallowed day. Fun but disgusting. There is a pub in Queens called Molly Bloom’s which holds an annual Bloom’s Day Fest. Once, my husband attended a reading with nonetheless than Fionnula Flanagan reading Molly--a great treat!

          Well then, as I am also a mere wino through and through, we shall be well matched. These days it is copious amounts of California cheap pinot noir, ostensibly for the amounts of resveratrol. Least, that is my ‘bella scusa’. There is nothing like getting it straight off the old vineyard, as I once did in Italia

          Dewmore I have not done but I shall take all your prescriptions underserious advisement. I am also a great lover of Armagnac but never know nor keep track of the names, hélas!

          Anyway, i shall dream of Wexford and wines tonight, and very happily so. Thank you so kindly for all your very informed advices.

          Cead Mile Failte!
          Camille

          • DurfortDM says:

            Camille!!!!!

            Argmagnac!!! Yum!! Fabulous with cigars -- a Bolivar Corgona Gigantes or Robusto for example. The vintage stuff is quite of out of my price range for the most part but a Larressingle XO or VSOP is I have to slum it will do quite nicely. The Labaude (both XO and VSOP) is a bit less consistent in my opinion.

            The Italian stuff is great, especially Piedmont, though Barolo is of course the ultimate food wine and requires the products of the soil (furry as well as leafy and mushrummy ones, of course) and it can be capricious but quite superb at its best.

            I have not, frankly kept up with my single malts as I should but have some affection for Ardberg and Glenfarcas, The Macallan is very good but a shade overpriced.

            I am most grateful to Balsamic for introducing this discussion and hope that both he, you and indeed Mr. Camille are having a wonderful summer.

          • Camille says:

            Ich muss schlafen, just like our Freundin Kundry.
            However, I must say good night to Mr. Durfort DM and will report back in tomorrow with Balsam in the form of a casque of Armagnac.
            Bis morgen, lieber Herr Durfort!
            C.

          • Buster says:

            A day without Armagnac is like a day without beer.

  • stevey says:

    My problem with La Gheorghiu has nothing to do with inaudability, but that she presents herself as a completely loathesome egomaniac, so bloated with conceit and immersed in her own greatness that it encompasses psychopathy, and even at times a complete separation from reality (the Met “poisoning”, anyone??)
    I know it shouldn’t matter, nor should I care- the artist should be appreciated for the art, right? But her personality and her conceit- the artist as PERSON, if it were- has reviled me so thoroughly as to have created something of a divide in me, and I can’t in good conscience bring myself to support in any way, or even (and this I recognize is a blot as to myself) APPRECIATE , her or anything that she does.
    And yes, perhaps I am the only one who’s missing out here… but- whether I should or not- I do feel good in knowing that I’m standing up against what I feel to be behaviour and personality unbecoming not only an artist, but a person, and that is antithetical to who I am.

    • manou says:

      There was an instance where Gheorghiu abused you thoroughly?

      An in the case of “the artist as PERSON”, what is your take on Nitikin?

    • oedipe says:

      Stevey,

      Gheorghiu has often used her clout in support of young Romanian artists, few of whom have access to the deep pockets and bulldozing power of the American and Western European PR machines. She has also publicly given advice to the young generation about personal assertiveness and the keys to professional success. Now, I suppose you think this is yet another manifestation of her unbecoming chutzpah, but this means a lot to youth who feel that talent and ability are trumped by the place where you are born.

    • Cocky Kurwenal says:

      Where are you getting all this from, Stevey? Are you an industry insider who has worked in some capacity with Gheorghiu? If not, I’m going to assume you’re in receipt of the same amount of information about her as the rest of us, and while she seems to me like ‘a bit of a diva’ in perhaps the J-Lo sense of the expression, and somewhat prone to canceling (although she has never cancelled when I’ve had a ticket, unlike Netrebko, Harteros and Fleming), I don’t really understand what there is in the public domain about her that could revile you so thoroughly, as you put it.

      Singers such as Price and Bumbry, even Dame Joan at times have left me with an impression of feisty ego-mania in interviews, even more so than Gheorghiu.

  • zinka says:

    More on Angela..You see, I must be “grabbed’ by a voice….small or large….but very few singers just have voices that go nowhere..very few actually..Beside Angela…Jennifer Larmore, Martina Arroyo, sometimes the great Dmitri Hvorostovska, Carlo Colombara…and maybe one or two others..but a tiny tiny number…A shame…Angela is great on CD..and i did like her once..butshe HERSELF said that she wants to “take it easier”….Like anyone else??NO WAY!! They give every night…

    • MontyNostry says:

      zinka — Just so I understand, are you saying that the voices of the four singers listed don’t/didn’t carry very well? If so, I can understand what you are saying with Larmore and Hvorostovsky (who both seem to have ‘dead’ patches in their voices), but it surprises me with Arroyo, whom I never saw live, but whose voice — as recorded — sounds resonant, if not always brilliant. Colombara is not a singer I know much about, apart from an Alvise on DVD.

      • Cocky Kurwenal says:

        Difficult to decipher the meaning, but certainly it is surprising to read that Arroyo had a small voice, if that is indeed what I am reading. Also difficult to reconcile with her record for the highest number of Met opening nights or whatever it is -- given the placid interpretation style, there has to have been something thrilling about her, and I’d always assumed it was sheer refulgence and gloriousness of voice.

        • kashania says:

          I agree that Arroyo wasn’t always an interesting interpreter but the voice itself was most impressive. This recording of the Ballo duet with Pavarotti captures a very exciting performance from both.

  • arepo says:

    La Cieca:
    You outdid yourself with your beautifully crafted appraisal. You hit all the high notes yourself of this wonderful and memorable production.
    Gheorghiu has never been in better form and more “Gheorgeous” and Kaufmann shined in his perfection of Maurizio. The man is a natural stage animal through and through. His expressions and his emotions add so much to a so-so role that he almost steals the show.
    The two of them supply a chemistry rarely witnessed to this viewer (save a superb Villazon-Netrebko R & J! And that’s saying a mouthful!)

    And Monty Nostra:
    I couldn’t agree more with your accolades on Corbelli. Never have I been more thrilled with the Michonnet role than Corbelli’s interpretation.
    He was simply superb from his gentle, giving manner directed at a woman he silently adores, to his all-encompassing characterization.

    This is a DVD to be collected.

  • Camille says:

    Once and forevermore—

    Cilea’s choice. Adriana in excels is.