Adriana Lecouvreur - Royal Opera House, 18 November 2010 (first night)
Perhaps it's true what they say about Angela Gheorghiu. At any rate, someone seems to have sucked the blood out of this money-no-object new production. Sure it's professionally crafted, ideally cast and skilfully performed, but then so is Paint Never Dries.
Like Lloyd Webster's magnum opus, the root of the problem is the music. Whiffs of Puccini, Bellini, Verdi and even Wagner scent Cilea's score without lending any real identity. Even though the orchestra played beautifully for Mark Elder, and he conducted with fastidious attention to detail, it wasn't hard to guess why it hasn't been scheduled here for over a hundred years.
I imagine Gheorghiu herself commanded the revival - impersonating an imperious diva whilst not venturing above a B must have been hard to resist. Within the limits of her abilities, she was actually not bad. Her pouty histrionics were, in Adriana's theatrical milieu, for once not out of place. David McVicar's mise-en-abîme production kindly assisted her by blurring the division between theatre and reality even further. With chairs and tables placed before an ever-present theatre, it was never quite clear whether we were on, off or back stage - though that benefited Gheorghiu more than the story line.
Incidentally, checking the libretto after the show, I was interested to see how many of what I'd assumed were McVicar's touches (such as a bust of Molière) are actually the original stage directions.
Gheorghiu's voice is not quite what it was. Where she used to float, she now flutters, and her mid-range lacks the clarity and definition of her top. Nerves seem to be a problem too, and she sang a lot more confidently at the dress rehearsal. But as ever she seems unable to make an ugly sound.
Although the opera's music is weak on characterisation, the libretto helps the singers a bit. Adriana for example converses in a high-flown, poetic style; her lover Maurizio is literal and down-to-earth. That's because she's an actress and he's a soldier. Why then did Jonas Kaufmann play him as a poet? The plot is woolly enough as it is, and Cilea's clumsy cuts to the storyline don't help. It's hard to engage with a character when you don't understand who he is.
Although Kaufmann generally sang with the intensity and baritonal burnish we have come to expect, there were a couple of worrying lines when his pianissimos simply disappeared, entirely unprojected. I wonder if the heavy roles are starting to take their toll.
Alessandro Corbelli as Adriana's secret admirer Michonnet gave the most rounded performance of the night, touching in his devotion and hangdog resignation. The rest of the cast were superb too, with Bonaventura Bottone's camp Abbate a special treat, and Maurizio Muraro and Michaela Schuster as the Prince and Princess of Bouillon.
It was hard to find fault, but at the end of the evening it was even harder to muster real enthusiasm. I don't think I was alone in this either - the applause was no more than dutiful. I'm going to a later performance as well, to see if Angeles Blancas Gulin and Olga Borodina can make any more of the opera than Gheorghiu and Schuster did, but I have my doubts.
***** UPDATE *****
Here's the curtain call from the *second* night, 22 November (thanks Kyoko):