Longtime friend of the ‘box Little Stevie returns to Adriana Lecouvreur:

I have always believed that as with La Gioconda, a great performance of Adriana Lecouvreur needs to serve up “the four greatest singers in the world”, and the Met seems to come close to doing just that. I have attended all of the performances thus far and Friday night was my third visit to this revival.

Placido Domingo‘s voice remains a steady and well produced instrument with a slight decline in volume and breadth of line and a somewhat more pronounced vibrato. What was once a silver sheen to the voice has bronzed, but by Act 4 when he allowed himself to sing out fully the sound made any of the current crop of rising tenors pale in comparison. Every note he sang was carefully measured and calibrated for maximum impact and it was a strong vocal showing, even in transposed keys.

Controversial to some, his transposition of large sections of music did not bother me. I did find it a bit cruel to make Maria Guleghina sing in an uncomfortably low register in their Act 1 scena, but my opinion is it’s better to have Domingo as Maurizio in a lower key than not to have him at all. The two of them make a very sexy couple and their was a serious passion between them. 

The role doesn’t require much acting from Domingo, and so he did not act much. At least he knows how to carry a performance based on charisma and commitment. He was definitely dignified and involved if a bit surface and stiff (perhaps criticism that could be said of many of his roles). He also received a full standing ovation (at least on Orchestra level) at his final solo curtain call.

These days Guleghina is comfortable exploring an earthy sexuality in her characterizations – Santuzza, Lady Macbeth, Norma – and unlike the last two of those roles she finds herself in comfortable ground vocally and emotionally with Adriana.  She presents a non-diva Diva – at her entrance she is the consummate artist working to perfect her craft, chummy with everyone backstage, enjoying adulation but wanting to include everyone in her glory. The new harem pants outfit with a cape was effective too. She saved the big time histrionics for the end of Acts 2 and 3, and both confrontations involved the rivals circling each other like cats in pre-revolutionary gowns – a camp fest par excellence!

I expect to be chastised for this – but I really liked her singing. The Times piece pointed out flaws that were miniscule – I only noted a couple of “hard edged” notes and certainly nothing “grainy”. True she doesn’t have the other-worldly pianissimi of Caballe, but especially at Friday’s performance she kept the voice scaled down when necessary, achieved some exciting diminuendo and crescendo effects, and “Poveri fiori” was quite hypnotic. There aren’t many “wall of sound” sopranos out there today who can almost physically make you feel the power of their voices at maximum volume, and when she let’s loose I get a thrill like no other.

Those who criticize her voice from listening to Sirius broadcasts please take note: hers is a voice that needs to “bloom” in the house – quite the opposite of what was once said about Barbra Streisand – this isn’t “a voice the microphone loves”. In the correct rep she is marvelous, and she remains an audience favorite.

Olga Borodina scores big as the Principessa. Every aspect of her dramatic mezzo is shown off to the fullest here. One or two spread high notes aside her voice remains voluptuous, and she ripped through “Acerba volutta” and her confrontations with Adriana at full steam. And she looked gorgeous and regal in the new period gowns created for her for this revival. She has a quality I used to see in Tatiana Troyanos: no matter what role she is in there is a strong sense of mystery about her that always makes her fascinating and intriguing onstage.

Roberto Frontali is an introspective and caring Michonnet with voice to spare in the part. His solos aren’t as demonstrative as those given the other principals, but he brings the same lovely quality of warmth that I saw in La Traviata and Luisa Miller to a peak here, and it makes me curious to see what he will do with Rigoletto this coming April.

I won’t be cruel about the sets since they debuted with Domingo 40 years ago, but wisely this revival has stripped and scaled down the old production using only pieces of the tattered sets supplemented by rear projections in 3 of the 4 Acts (curiously the old painted drop is used for the palace of the Prince de Bouillon and it only reminds us of how horrible it looked 14 years ago when the opera was revived for Freni). It kind of works in a college-workshop-1980’s sort of way, but Act 4 is a joke; a rear projection of abstract “violets” and 4 pieces of furniture at opposite sides of the large stage – a table and chair, a free standing fireplace, and what I guess is a bed dead center of the living room.

Direction by Mark Lamos is at once workmanlike and amateurish (why does Adriana have to put out 40 CANDLES before the Princess comes out of the back room??) but the artists avail themselves well with their understanding of the roles.

Marco Armiliato gave a nice reading of the score, comfortable tempos for the singers, and a very sensitive reading of the prelude to Act 4. Comparatively speaking this is a much more successful revival than what they did in 1994 and that is mainly due to the quartet of singers in the leading roles.

Fans of verismo might want to catch this revival before the run is over because it might be more than a decade before a comparable cast can be assembled. My new best friend is the Met Weekend Lottery (I’ve won it 3 times so far) and Adriana should be available again for $25 on Saturday, February 28. — Little Stevie