The Metropolitan Opera has been presenting Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera by Cilea. (Francesco Cilea is known for one other opera as well: L’arlesiana.) Adriana Lecouvreur is not very often staged. In 2011, we had a concert performance of the opera in New York, at Carnegie Hall: Angela Gheorghiu, the Romanian soprano, and Jonas Kaufmann, the German tenor, were paired.
If people don’t see the opera, they certainly know the arias, or some of them. “Io son l’umile ancella” is a beloved soprano aria. Leontyne Price used it regularly as an encore in recital. “Poveri fiori” is the other soprano aria, a tear-jerker. There is also a brief, powerful mezzo aria: “O vagabonda stella.” In recent years, Jamie Barton has shown this off.
What is Adriana Lecouvreur about? Well, you know, it’s an opera: love, jealousy, death. The poisoned violets are ridiculous even by opera standards, but this is easily overlooked. The title character is an actress, and, as the opera begins, she is performing in Bajazet, the play by Racine. Others of us know Bajazet as an opera by Vivaldi.
For its Adriana, the Met has assembled some of the best singers working today, which, in a sense, is the Met’s job. Adriana herself is portrayed by Anna Netrebko, the Russian soprano, who is arguably the starriest, most dynamic performer in the business.
The soprano—whoever she is—sings “Io son l’umile ancella” right away. On Friday night, Netrebko started very, very badly. She was out of tune, ugly (of voice), and foundering. She found her footing, however, and finished the aria respectably. As the opera wore on, she did some superb singing and some poor singing. One measure she’d screech, the next measure she’d sing properly. Toward the very end, she floated an A for about an hour. It was heavenly.
This was not La Netrebko’s best night. But most of us would take her subpar over others at their best.
Her tenor, in the role of Maurizio, was Piotr Beczala, the noble Pole. Early on, there was a hint of strangle in his voice. But only a hint. For the most part, he was his lyric-heroic self.
Anita Rachvelishvili was smokingly and beautifully powerful. She sang “O vagabonda stella” like a brick wall: a big, beautiful brick wall.
Our mezzo, singing the Princess, was Anita Rachvelishvili, the Georgian. Holy Moses. She was smokingly and beautifully powerful. She sang “O vagabonda stella” like a brick wall: a big, beautiful brick wall. Afterward, the young man sitting next to me asked, “Who’s that?” Rarely, rarely have I heard a voice so big in an opera house. Blythe-big? No, but Zajick-big, at least. Moreover, Rachvelishvili was consistently musical and smart.
It was a treat to see and hear Ambrogio Maestri, the Italian baritone. He took the part of Michonnet. Maestri is a famous Falstaff, and he is famous for his diction: an exemplary Italian diction. He showed off that diction on Friday night. Incidentally, from my seats, he looked a lot like portraits of J. S. Bach. Really.
One of the canniest performers in opera is Maurizio Muraro, an Italian bass. He had the role of the Prince, and made the most of it—made the most of it without making too much of it. Muraro is a pro in virtually every phrase and gesture.
None of this means much without a good conductor, and the Met had one in Gianandrea Noseda. He was alert, accurate, and vivid. He treated Adriana Lecouvreur as though it were a masterpiece (and it surely has some masterly moments). He gave the prelude, if I may put it that way, to Act IV a wonderful shape. (This is the “Poveri fiori” music.) I should be clearer: he did not manipulate the music but let it unfold naturally. Noseda breathed along with the music.
Several Met musicians had stand-out nights, not excluding the timpanist. But if I had to name just one, I would name the concertmaster, David Chan, whose playing was both nifty and sweet.
The Met has a new production of Adriana, in the care of Sir David McVicar, the dauntless Scotsman. His production has (a) imagination and (b) fidelity—fidelity to the opera. That’s pretty much the whole ballgame, isn’t it?
If you did not like Friday night’s Adriana Lecouvreur at the Met, you do not like grand opera. If you don’t, fine. It’s a free country. But if you do—Friday night was for you.