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Opera Essentials: Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur

Our quick introduction to Cilea’s impassioned theatre tragedy, sumptuously realized in David McVicar’s Royal Opera production.

By Kate Hopkins (Content Producer (Opera and Music))

12 January 2017 at 10.10am | 5 Comments

The story begins…

Count Maurizio and the beautiful actress Adriana Lecouvreur fall passionately in love. But their affair is threatened not only by their mutual preoccupation with their respective careers, but by the furious jealousy of the Princesse de Bouillon, Maurizio’s cast-off mistress.

The real story of Adriana

The title role of Cilea’s opera Adriana Lecouvreur is inspired by the 18th-century French actress Adrienne Lecouvreur, one of the greatest tragic actresses of her era, particularly known for her interpretations of Racine’s heroines. While Adrienne did indeed have a long-term love affair with Maurice of Saxony (who had also attracted the attention of the young Duchesse de Bouillon) it is thought that her early death – despite rumours of poisoning – was from natural causes.

Cilea’s greatest hit

Adriana Lecouvreur was the only successful opera by Francesco Cilea, a contemporary of Puccini who, unlike many Italian composers of his generation, was not particularly drawn to verismo opera. Adriana’s premiere in November 1902 at the Teatro Lirico, Milan, met with acclaim from public and press alike, not least because the great tenor Enrico Caruso was singing Maurizio. The opera soon toured internationally, and in recent years has re-entered the regular repertory.

Worlds within worlds

The world of the theatre permeates the drama of Adriana Lecouvreur. In Act I, Cilea captures the pre-performance bustle of the Comédie-Française, while Adriana’s first aria ‘Io son l’umile ancella’ is a paean to emotional truth in art. In Act III, the subject of the ballet – the choice of Paris – reflects Maurizo’s choice between Adriana and the Princesse, while Adriana uses a speech from Racine’s Phèdre – moving chillingly from song into speech – to denounce her rival.

Setting the stage

The importance of the theatre for Adriana is reflected David McVicar’s production, with intricate sets by Charles Edwards. Act I’s set – a replica of an 18th-century theatre – returns in different guises in each act, making theatre’s presence keenly felt. In Act IV, the gaunt shell of the theatre conveys Adriana’s desolation at Maurizio’s supposed betrayal.

Adriana Lecouvreur runs 7 February–2 March 2017. Tickets are still available.

The production is a co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, Vienna State Opera, San Francisco Opera and Opéra National de Paris, and is given with generous philanthropic support from The Friends of Covent Garden.

This article has 5 comments

  1. Cecilia Segawa Seigle responded on 15 January 2017 at 12:46am Reply

    I bought the DVD of the 2010(I believe) ROH production of Adriana Lecouvreur with Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann as soon as it came out - I love it! and I am still very happy with it. I won't be coming to London for another production, unless Mr. Kaufmann appears with Ms Gheorghiu (which is not likely). Anyway I thought the ROH production was simply magnificent.

  2. Bray Grem responded on 15 January 2017 at 3:33pm Reply

    Looking forward to see Angela Gheorghiu, on 17 feb! I still remember her lovely voice in one impressive Tosca performance last January.

  3. Bryan Moore responded on 16 January 2017 at 9:42am Reply

    I am looking forward to enjoying my front row seats for the performance on 24th February, but my wife will be joining me for the first time. She is not an opera lover, poor her, but with Angela's lovely voice and in these beautiful surroundings I hope to convert her and have every hope I will succeed.

  4. Cecilia Segawa Seigle responded on 22 January 2017 at 10:19pm Reply

    Dear Angela,
    Your Adriana Lecouvreur was fabuous! Your partnership with Jonas Kaufmann was the best-- Your recent Tosca in Vienna was wonderful too - you still look and sound wonderful. Good luck to you!

  5. Giulia Breakwell responded on 23 January 2017 at 7:45am Reply

    This Opera sounds a must see !!

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