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The last classic diva – Adriana Lecouvreur (ROH, 7 February 2017)

If you’re like me and spend most of your opera time with modernised productions of operas written in the 18th century, a traditional (with capital T) performance of an opera like Adriana Lecouvreur always feels like a trip to a very old relative’s house. You might enjoy spending time with said relative, you might even like their quaint taste in the inevitable knick-knacks but it’s still miles away from your life and views.

Though written in 1902, I was hard pressed to see anything 20th century about it. It’s simply old school and it needs singers who have a feel for that kind of thing.

Adriana Lecouvreur: Angela Gheorghiu
Maurizio: Brian Jagde
Abbé de Chazeuil: Krystian Adam
Princesse de Bouillon: Ksenia Dudnikova
Prince de Bouillon: Bálint Szabó
Michonnet: Gerald Finley
Mademoiselle Jouvenot: Vlada Borovko
Mademoiselle Dangeville: Angela Simkin
Poisson: Thomas Atkins
Quinault: Simon Shibambu
Conductor: Daniel Oren | Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Coproduction with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Vienna State Opera, San Francisco Opera and Opéra National de Paris

Luckily for us, Angela Gheorghiu is one of those singers. The only properly old school singers I had seen live were Domingo and Nucci and even they are merely a few years older than my parents. Watching Gheorghiu at work was the closest I came to witnessing a classic diva. Though Fleming is older, she’s got that American knack for updating her image, getting on with times etc. and just blending grand with business casual whereas Gheorghiu seems to have made a conscious effort of sticking with the legendary image of a European diva. You’re never going to pull off shouting – in recit voice – I am Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy! if you haven’t embraced that.

I was fully expecting her to overdo it but she didn’t. She stayed within the schmalzy limits of the libretto/music. In this sense her death scene was the most telling. She couldn’ve snatched a last cry but she went gently. She also didn’t seem intent on outshining her co-stars, more power to her (because she really didn’t need to; Adriana has it all).

(Schmalz: you might think there isn’t anything OTT about Adriana and perhaps you’re right; I just have a very low tolerance for sentimentality; doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have fun trying something like that on stage).

This being the first time I heard La Gheorghiu live (her repertoire isn’t normally up my alley), I was very impressed with her vocally. She’s just this side of 50 and the voice shows no signs of wear and tear. Then again, I guess nobody could accuse her of oversinging. Her attacks are always smooth and measured without feeling emotionless, she can pull a breathtaking pianissimo when she wants, and that part of her range that has made her famous still boasts gorgeously rounded notes, whilst the lower part has matured. Like her stage persona, the voice also has an old school feel to it, like she’s grown up on a steady diet of Tebaldi and never found the need to fix what ain’t broken.

I’m glad she hasn’t. We need all kinds of personalities out there. Sometimes you feel like everybody rushes to be cool and modern. Evenings like this make you stop and consider that it’s not absolutely necessary to do that. Especially if we want to keep operas like this in the repertoire. Having developed a soft spot for Adriana, I would love it if singers could keep the link to this tradition alive, musty as it may feel on occassion. Not everything is about Handel and Mozart (in shorts).

In spite of the traditonal this, traditional that talk, I do think the libretto is one of the better ones out there (subject and character-wise; there were moments when I wasn’t sure who sends whom which letter). Adriana, Michonnet and the Evil Princess are all well done characters. There are worse tenor characters than Maurizio. I like the social angle, as well, though of course if I could sing one role it would be Princess de Bouillon, leftist values be damned. What a villain! But it’s good that Adriana tries, at least, to stand up for herself in the face of unyielding power and privilege.

This is a revival of the 2010 ROH production, the first in 100 years, originally designed for Gheorghiu. There are many things that could be said about La Gheorghiu (that she keeps to a narrow repertoire, for instance) but there’s no doubt that she is very good at what she does. It’s quite obvious she feels at home in this production.

The role is not for the faint of heart or beginners (though Michonnet alludes to Adriana’s young age), as Adriana gets right into the meat of things within a couple of minutes of stepping – appearing, more likely – on stage, with Io son l’umile ancella, which is a less catchy Vissi d’arte but still quite the aria. There is so much to recite as well as sing here that one needs to be well into their career to carry this – for indeed the opera’s success rests on the shoulders of the soprano.

If you also have solid singers in the other roles that’s a bonus, of course. We did. I’m quite the Finley fan and here (as Michonnet) he was not only in very fine vocal form but also touching dramatically. Michonnet is a sweetie but most likely the type of chap destined for the friendzone as most women of Adriana’s temper – the ones he is interested in – crave adventure and danger instead of reliability and quiet loyalty.

Jagde as the heroic dreamboat Maurizio was suitably dashing (though perhaps moreso for those who missed Kaufmann in 2010) and his Italianate tenor cries carried to the rafters without any issue. His voice is very good for that kind of thing and there’s a good deal of artistry there as well, which manifested itself in an ability to alternate dynamics and colour. The chemistry between him and Gheorghiu was believable.

There can’t be a satisfying Adriana Lecouvreur for a mezzo fan without a rumbling Acerba volutta. Yours truly awaited the start of act II with a bated breath and opera glasses at the ready. In good opera tradition, her shadow preceeds the Evil Princess, as her theme (also the opera’s theme) surges ominuously and then drops mysteriously into apparent bubbliness. Then she pulls her veil and we can see who will stand between our kind hearted to a fault (if self absorbed) Melpomene and her happiness.

Cilea really doesn’t do half measures here, the villain has to hold her own against Adriana. I didn’t know Dudnikova but she held my attention all right through the evening. The voice isn’t as metallic as one would expect from a Slavic singer. There is a good deal of velvet along with the dark chest notes and very clear top notes, at least as far as the role requires, and the voice carries very well. She’s also got the looks to rival Gheorghiu’s – Ice Princess vs. Southern European temper.

Their dialogue in the dark and the act III showdown at Bouillon’s party were without a doubt the best parts of the evening, pitting two strong personalities, barbed words and icy glances but also real emotions and hurt. Too bad the reason was so mundane.

As someone with at least some interest in the history of theatre/opera, I can’t say I didn’t appreciate the effort this production put into recreating an 18th century theatre experience within the opera per se (operas about opera/theatre usually rank high with me). We were shown everything – actors’ lives backstage, actors on stage, actors interacting with their public, actors as human beings, dealing with their personal emotions and in the end theatre and life getting jumbled.

As I was saying earlier, my favourite bit of the libretto is the dialogue Adriana and the Evil Princess have in the dark (where neither knows who the other one is) and their showdown in act III, because we can see different aspects of public and private personas. Adriana gets another kind of adulation and respect than the Princess, but it is real adulation and respect nonetheless and it does, even though briefly, win the day.

In conclusion, everybody was very good and La Gheorghiu has still got it. Go watch her in one of her strong pieces, especially if you’re at the younger end of the opera fans’ spectrum and don’t quite know how they did it back then.

I was so taken with the business on stage I can’t say much about the conducting/orchestra other that they didn’t hurt the stage action and there were a few instances with various singers where the interaction between the stage and the pit stood out clearly and in a good way. A standout night in a packed house, all the arias got hearty applause and there was much cheering at curtain call.

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ROH’s 2016/17 Winter Season now on General Sale

roh tunnelThe Winter Season at the ROH usually eludes me but this year I wanted to specifically catch two productions: the first revival of McVicar’s Adriana Lecouvreur and a new Der Rosenkavalier. Though I had work training today at the very time the tickets went on sale, I managed to sneak out for a 10min break and book tickets to said shows 😀

Some of you might know I have a soft spot for Adriana (and have never seen La Gheorghiu yet). As for Der Rosenkavalier, if it’s in town I’ll go. Probably still the most sensible thing to experience Renee Fleming in.

…and that’s my old skool diva loot for the year 😉 Now let’s hope no one catches a cold at that time of the year (me included).

I also thought about getting tickets to Written on Skin to hear Babs Hannigan. I’ve been vacillating because 1) I didn’t like the music the one time I listened to it and 2) is seeing Hannigan in an opera the best way to get her complex personality? As in, is this not too stifling and boxed-in?

edit 19/10: based on John’s recommendation below, I booked a ticket to Written on Skin as well.

“revival adriana lecouvreur roh 2016-2017”

Dear all, I’m very heartened to notice the blog has been running itself – ie it is being read – even though I have been less active recently. The most attractive were the posts (especially the last one, which skyrocketed to the top 3) about the 2016-17 ROH season. Earlier today I checked the wiki page where I got my initial info (out of curiosity whether anything new was added).

For whatever reason my last post didn’t mention anything about the Adriana Lecouvreur revival which is supposed to happen sometime next year, with Gheorghiu in the title role and Ekaterina Gubanova (rather than the other EG) as her nemesis and one of my favourite mezzo roles. Anyway, it’s there so we – the person who found my blog via this search, I and anyone else who likes this opera – can only hope everything will go well and no divas will be dropping out at the last minute. I would like to see Gheorghiu live but I’m not into Puccini.

I also notice there is a Don Carlo next year in May (very specific dates, too), with Vargas, Stoyanova and Tezier. I might give it a try as I have started to thaw towards widening my operatic horizons.

It’s ROH new season(s) rumour time

The rumours. The ROH season is usually announced at the end of March. But who can wait? Not me. So (off that rumour list) here’s my should see listicle:

  1. JDD returns to ROH as Werther‘s Charlotte which I think will work well for the both of us (I tried and tried with Werther via a number of favourite mezzos and I still find it/Massenet a bore). Maybe the trick is live and with JDD.
  2. Lemieux in Enescu, that’s going to be interesting. I think? With Fura del Baus it’ll be a show all right.
  3. Angela Gheorghiu + Adriana Lecouvreur – I say yes! but er, no! to the predicted Principessa de Bouillon. I know most of you will disagree and be very happy with her… for my part I hope EG drops out so I can see the show [evil laughter]. Or I can just go see the alternative lady whom I don’t know. But she can still drop out 😉 Ladies aside, it’s also supposed to have Marcello Alvarez.
  4. La Damrau returns with her Lucia which I will have to see. There haven’t been enough damsels in distress lately.
  5. I’ve been meaning to see Sophie Koch for a good while now (just how much Strauss did I miss her in?), preferably not in Wagner, although in Tannhauser her 15min are at the beginning so it could be done 😉 must be a £10 ticket then. I can be one of those people who don’t return after the intermission…
  6. There’s also Mitridate, which is only mentioned as an aside in that link but it will apparently happen (heard this rumour before), to which I will of course make room left and right almost without regards to who’s in it – within reason, of course. Actually, nah, I’ll go even unreasonably 😉 If somehow Lezhneva sneaks her tail in you’ll have to pray for me, is all. Like you will have to in June with Don Giovanni, where it was recently pointed out to me that she’s going to be Zerlina. Hey, at least she’s not Donna Anna!

Thursday’s Something Else (Cilèa)

tseFluff is in the air, sounds like a good time for a dramatic soprano vehicle: Adriana Lecouvreur. Intercepted letters, people who shouldn’t meet crossing paths, rumours, hair pulling and lastly, poisoned violets. Cilèa really liked that menacing tune and we get to hear it again and again: dee-dee-dee… dee-dee-dee… dee-dee-dee. I liked it initially too but it got a bit Captain Obvious. The face-off between Adriana and Princesa de Bouillon was melodrama central. Two birds fighting over pretty boy Carreras Maurizio. He’s mine! No, he’s mine! I love him more! I love him to distraction! Shouting, hair pulling, theatre within opera, subtext, grand death of diva. Ripped from the 1720s headlines. Except Maurizio wasn’t gonna marry anyone.