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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Opera Review: A Torrid Thespian Affair

Superconductor takes another look at Adriana Lecouvereur.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dying young: Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala light up Adriana Lecouvereur.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
Opening Night was so nice that we had to see it twice. On Thursday night, my regular opera companion and I finagled rush tickets to see a second performance of Adriana Lecouvereur, the Met's current offering starring super-soprano Anna Netrebko as a famous French actress whose love for a handsome two-timer leads to her inevitable (but oh so refined) death.

This show is all about Anna. From her first entrance (with her back to the audience in a private backstage dressing room on stage left) she teases and caresses the ear before letting that instrument loose at full flood. However, her performance this night seemed somewhat scooped. She still has a strong upper register and surprisingly powerful low end, but the all-important passagio between those two sounds was repeatedly overwhelmed by the orchestra.

The same cannot be said for Anita Rachvelishvili, in a star-making turn as the villainous Princess who is out for revenge on Adriana. The first scene between the two singers is a microcosm for this entire opera, starting out as a comic encounter in a dark room. It is farce that quickly turns tragic as the two divas realize they are both in love with the same man, and the voices erupt in a duel over the orchestra with the force and fury of a slapped glove.

The war continued into the third act, as Adriana and La Principessa found themselves at odds at a ballet performance. It culminates in the great scene where Adriana mounts the little stage set and recites from the play Phedre, insulting the Princess. This is the act that seals the actress' fate, as the wounded party responds by sending poisoned violets to Adriana, killing her in the most refined manner imaginable. Ms. Netrebko's death scene was once more spectacularly sung, with the orchestra allowing the soprano to dominate the stage.

At this performance, (the third in the current run) the strong qualities of the cast had improved, with singing actors jelling together as a dramatic unit. At the forefront was Adriana's (and the Princess') stormy relationship(s) with the handsome Maurizio (Piotr Beczala.) Although he starts the opera posing as a poor soldier, Maurizio is a Saxon prince whose playboy reputation is only exceeded by the pulchritude of his endless supply of military tailcoats. Mr. Beczala too was in velvety voice, using the lyric qualities of his keen tenor to good effect.

Baritone Ambrogio Maestri anchored this entire performance with his warm, funny and fully human performance as Adriana's mentor and would-be lover Michonnet. Mr. Maestri walks the fine line between comic foil and tragic, secondary hero, framed by two big monologue-arias in the first and fourth acts. As the Abbé and the Prince de Bouillon, Carlo Bosi and Maurizio Muraro remain an effective pair of comic intriguers, helping the texture of this opera veer between baroque comedy and full-on verismo tragedy.

Gianandrea Noseda does a remarkable job with this score, lending weight and dramatic power to Francesco Cilea's music. He takes what is essentially middling opera music and brings a symphonic touch to it, lending Cilea's music an almost Russified sound that one associates with Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev. These  skills elevated passages like the Act II intermezzo, the ballet music in the third act. In the fourth it is his restraint that allows Adriana to meet her tragic end in Maurizio's arms, bringing this tragedy to a quiet and heart-rending close.

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