Angela, I mean, Adriana Lecouvreur

Gheorghiu and Kaufmann, photo @Karsten Moran
When I was living at home with my parents, my dad and I used to have a little thing. Whenever my mom went out of town, the first thing we did was we bought a big box of pizza. My mom, of course, would never allow us just to eat pizza and soda for dinner, so whenever she wasn't around, the first thing we did was pig out on pizza and soda.

Adriana Lecouvreur is opera's equivalent of a big, greasy, pepperoni-filled pizza pie. It's cheesy (forgive the pun), but oh boy is it fun, so much more so than "eat your spinach" operas like, uh, Tannhauser. I've never really been able to follow the particulars of the plot except this: Adriana is an actress and that she's loved by a tenor and baritone, but there's a mezzo that gets jealous and poisons poor Adriana. Last night's performance of Adriana at the OONY reminded me of all the times I wolfed down pizza the minute my mom left the house. Ah, fun times.

 Adriana is one of the those operas that's only as good as the singers. It has meaty parts for soprano, tenor, mezzo, and baritone, which might explain its stubborn staying power despite being derided by conductors and serious musicians since, well, the premiere (1902, with Enrico Caruso and Angelica Pandolfini -- thanks for the correction, readers!). Soprano divas love the part, which doesn't have many fearsome high notes but does have plenty of opportunities for fancy costumes, dramatic "acting," and of course, a beautiful death. In the 1930s, Rosa Ponselle begged Edward Johnson for Adriana. He refused, and she quit opera. In the 1960's, Renata Tebaldi insisted on a new production of Adriana and Rudolf Bing reluctantly accepted. In his autobiography he recalled the incident with such bitterness, you would have thought Renata ran over his puppy. Today, performances are even rarer, especially performances with grade-A casts, which might explain the high turnout last night at Carnegie Hall.

Angela Gheorghiu's performances in New York at least have become rarer and rarer. Just in the past two years she's cancelled entire runs of Carmen, Romeo et Juliette, and Faust. Up until the last minute there was web chatter about whether she'd show up at all for this engagement. But she was good to her word, and really delivered last night. She was in temperament an almost perfect Adriana -- haughty, theatrical, but with a touch of kookiness and fragility. Her voice is too soft-grained for some of the more declamatory parts of the role, and she also is over-fond of some effects that after awhile seem like mannerisms -- reducing her voice to a thread, only to swell it back up to a loud forte, some idiosynchratic phrasing, and often deliberately lagging behind the conductor. Despite these diva mannerisms, there was undeniable beauty, charm, and pathos in the way she sang last night. She needed time to warm up -- “Io son l’umile ancella,” was rather weak and at times inaudible, but once she did warm up she put on a great show. "Poveri fiori" was particularly lovely, as was her very protracted death scene. She also looked stunning in first a sparkly black evening gown, and then for the second act a white toga-like dress. Adriana is a diva, and Angela doesn't have to play the part -- it all comes naturally to her.

Jonas Kaufmann was the ying to Angela's yang. I can never figure out whether Maurizio is a likable character -- he's a gigolo to a married woman, and he has a romance on the side with Adriana, and he's also ... a war hero? I don't know. Whereas Angela simply marks sections of the score that are less musically notable, Kaufmann sang the sometimes bombastic, Andrew Lloyd Webber-like score as if it were a lieder recital. His timbre is dark and baritonal and can sound a bit throaty, but at other times it can ring like a trumpet, and he was in very good voice last night. Great to see him back after he cancelled some performances this summer for surgery. He and Gheorghiu have a strange but effective chemistry. They definitely seem like stage lovers, with a lot of air-kisses and no-contact embraces, but in its own theatrical way it was romantic.

Anita Rachvelishvili as the jealous, murderous Principessa has one of those huge, throaty, cavernous Russian voices that makes opera fans wild, and critics fret. It's a big, undisciplined voice and she's apparently very young (not even 30). Definitely a name to watch. Ambrogio Maestri was a very sympathetic Michonnet, with a smooth, well-produced baritone. I enjoyed watching Alberto Veronesi conduct. He has that big, poofy conductor hair and he looked like he was doing a Leonard Bernstein imitation, with the jumping, dramatic starts/stops and frantic stick-waving. He made the score sound like 1930's MGM movie music, but it was endearing to see a conductor treating Cilea like Mahler.

The audience was highly enthusiastic. Weeping, screaming, stomping. There really is nothing like scarfing down pizza the minute mom leaves.


  1. Hi Ivy

    Fun intro in re pizza! I wish I had liked Angela more but I thought it was bogus, self-enraptured artistry, if with some *really* pretty tone.

    Anyway, the creatrix of Adriana was Angelica Pandolfini; Lina Cavalieri did the 1907 Met premiere, not the world premiere.



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