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Adriana Lecouvreur is an opera in four acts by Francesco Cilea to an Italian libretto by Arturo Colautti, based on the play by Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouvé. It was first performed on 6 November 1902 in Milanmarker.

The same play by Scribe and Legouvé which served as a basis for Cilea's librettists was also used by at least three different librettists for operas carrying exactly the same name, Adriana Lecouvreur, and created by three different composers. The first was opera in three acts by Tommaso Benvenuti (premiered in Milan in 1857). The next two were lyric dramas in 4 acts by Edoardo Vera (to the libretto by Achille de Lauzières) which premiered in Lisbonmarker in 1858, and by Ettore Perosio (to the anonymous libretto) premiered in Genevamarker in 1889. After Cilea created his own Adriana, however, none of those by others were performed anymore and they remain largely unknown today.

The opera is based on the life of the French actress Adrienne Lecouvreur (1692–1730). While there are some actual historical figures in the opera, the episode it recounts is largely fictional, its death-by-poisoned violets plot device often signalled as verismo opera's least realistic. It is often condemned as being among the most confusing texts ever written for the stage, and cuts that have often been made in performance only make the story harder to follow. Still, the heroine, Adriana, is an engaging character, and the music is considerably better than the libretto. It is an example of verismo opera, but it is not nearly as popular as such works as Pagliacci and Cavalleria rusticana. The running time of a typical modern performance is about 135 minutes (excluding intervals).

The opera debuted at the Teatro Lirico, Milan, on 6 November 1902, with the well-known verismo soprano Angelica Pandolfini in the title role, the incomparable tenor Enrico Caruso in the role of Maurizio, and the smooth lyric baritone Giuseppe de Luca as Michonnet.

The opera gained its Metropolitan Opera premiere on 18 November 1907 (in a performance starring Lina Cavalieri and Caruso). It had a run of only three performances that season, however, due in large part to Caruso's ill-health. Subsequently, it was revived at the Met from time until a new production was commissioned in 1963. That 1963 production continued to be remounted at the same theatre, with differing casts, for the next few decades.

It was in the lead role of this opera that the Spanish tenor Placido Domingo made his Met debut in 1968, alongside the acclaimed Italian soprano Renata Tebaldi in the title role. (Domingo became a conductor, too, after several decades spent as an opera singer; he sang again in Adriana Lecouvreur in February 2009, although his voice was by now in decline..)

The title role in Adriana Levouvreur has always been a favorite of sopranos with a troublesome top register. This part has a relatively low tessitura but is nonetheless a meaty and challenging one to tackle on a dramatic level - especially during the work's so-called "Recitation" and death scene. It is thus an ideal vehicle for a singer equipped with a big, passionate-sounding voice and loads of personality. Famous Adrianas of the past 75 years have included Claudia Muzio, Magda Olivero, Leyla Gencer, Montserrat Caballé, Renata Tebaldi, Raina Kabaivanska, Renata Scotto and Mirella Freni.

A recording of part of the opera's last act duet "No, più nobile", rejigged into a self-contained tenor aria, was made by Caruso as early as 1902 for the Gramophone & Typewriter Company in Milan and its affiliates, with Cilea at the piano. As befits the great artistry of the creator of the male lead at the first performance, Caruso's version remains the best one on disc.

In Decca's 1990 complete performance of the work, with Dame Joan Sutherland as the female lead, the Australian conductor Richard Bonynge made sure that he restored a long-lost passage that Cilea had cut originally from the score. Its restoration made the opera's plot more transparent.

Ethan Mordden's novel The Venice Adriana employs the plot and characters of the opera in a modern setting.

Roles

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, November 6, 1902
(Conductor: Cleofonte Campanini)
Adriana Lecouvreur (Adrienne Lecouvreur), a famous actress soprano Angelica Pandolfini
Maurizio (Maurice de Saxe), Count of Saxony tenor Enrico Caruso
Princess de Bouillon mezzo-soprano Edvige Ghibaudo
Prince de Bouillon bass Edoardo Sottolana
Abbé (Abate), his servant tenor Enrico Giordani
Michonnet, a stage manager baritone Giuseppe de Luca
Jouvenot mezzo-soprano
Dangeville mezzo-soprano
Duclos soprano
Poisson tenor
Quinault bass
Major-domo bass


Synopsis

Act 1

Backstage at the Comédie-FrançaisemarkerPreparing for a performance, the company bustle around Michonnet the stage manager. The Prince de Bouillon, admirer of the actress Duclos, is with his companion, the Abbé. Adriana enters reciting. Complimented, she sings 'Io son l'umile ancella' ("I am the humble servant of the creative spirit"). The Prince hears that Duclos is writing a letter and arranges for its interception. Left alone with Adriana, Michonnet wants to express his love for her, but Adriana explains she has a lover - a soldier in the service of the Count of Saxony. Maurizio is in reality the count himself. He enters and declares his love for Adriana, 'La dolcissima effigie'. They will meet after the performance. Adriana gives him some violets to put in his buttonhole. The Prince and the Abbé return. They have obtained the letter from Duclos - asking for a meeting with Maurizio later that evening near the Prince's villa. The Prince decides to arrange a party for the company at the villa in order to expose the couple. He sends the letter on to Maurizio who then cancels his appointment with Adriana. She receives his letter on stage. Adriana agrees to join the Prince's party.

Act 2

A villa by the SeineThe Princess de Bouillon, not the actress Duclos, is waiting for Maurizio. She loves him, 'Acerba voluttà, dolce tortura'. He enters and she sees the violets. Where did he get them? He presents them to her. Maurizio is grateful for her help at court but admits he no longer loves her. She guesses he has a lover but he won't reveal who she is. The Prince and the Abbé suddenly arrive and the Princess hides. Maurizio realizes they think he is with Duclos. Adriana enters and learns Maurizio's true identity. He tells Adriana the assignation was political. They must arrange the escape of a woman who is in hiding. She is not Duclos. Adriana trusts him and agrees to help. During the intermezzo that follows the house is darkened, and Adriana tells the Princess she can escape. However, the two women are mutually suspicious and the rescue attempt turns into a blazing quarrel before the Princess finally leaves. Michonnet notices a bracelet dropped by the Princess and gives it to Adriana.

Act 3

The Hôtel de BouillonMaurizio has been imprisoned for debt, and the Princess is desperate to discover the identity of her rival. The Prince, who has an interest in chemistry, is putting away a powerful poison the government has asked him to analyze. Michonnet and Adriana arrive for the reception. The Princess thinks she recognizes her voice. She announces that Maurizio has been wounded in a duel and Adriana faints. Soon afterwards Maurizio enters uninjured and Adriana is ecstatic. He sings of his war exploits, 'Il russo Mencikoff'. A ballet is performed: the 'Judgement of Paris'. The Princess and Adriana challenge each other in growing recognition that they are rivals for Maurizio's affection. Adriana learns that the bracelet Michonnet found belongs to the Princess. The latter pointedly suggests that Adriana should recite a scene from 'Ariadne abandoned' but the Prince asks instead for a scene from 'Phèdre'. Adriana uses the final lines of the text to make a headstrong attack on the Princess, who determines to have her revenge.

Act 4

A room in Adriana's houseMichonnet is waiting. Adriana is delirious with anger and jealousy. Members of the theatre company come to visit her, bringing her presents on her name day, trying to persuade her to return to the theatre. Michonnet has retrieved a diamond necklace, previously pawned by Adriana to help Maurizio pay off his debts. A casket is delivered with a note from Maurizio. Adriana looks at the note and immediately feels unwell. She looks in the box and takes out the faded violets that she had once given Maurizio in the theatre. She is hurt that he should send them back to her. She kisses the flowers, 'Poveri fiori', and throws them in the fire. Maurizio enters. He wishes to marry her. They embrace but he finds she is shaking. Maurizio tells her that he didn't send the flowers. She becomes deranged. Michonnet and Maurizio realize that she has been poisoned. She becomes lucid again, 'Ecco la luce', and dies.

Adaptations

The opera was adapted into film by Italian Director Ugo Falena in 1919.


References

  1. Full Search in: Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia of references for all Adrianas
  2. However, for the reference on how widespread in the 18th century problem of poisoning was one could read the chapter on the "Slow Poisoners" within Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay (pp. 565-592).
  3. The Met Archives (database)
  4. The synopsis by Simon Holledge was first published at Operajaponica.org and appears here by permission.



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