Composer: Francesco Celia
Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda
Librettist: arturo Colautti
Producer/Director: Sir David McVicar
Adriana Lecouvreur: Anna Netrebko
The Princess of Bouillon: Anita Rachvelishvili
Maurizio: Piotr Beczala
Michonnet: Ambrogio Maestri
Last Saturday, once I was done with the dreamlike four and a half hours of a superb Pelléas et Mélisande, followed by three hours of the frenetic, cold but still rain-free outside world, I was back at the Met getting mentally prepared to return to France, albeit through an Italian opera this time. Francesco Celia’s Adriana Lecouvreur was inspired by French tragedienne Adrienne Lecouvreur, who was as famous for her innovative naturalistic acting style as for her many indiscriminating love affairs, tight connections in high places, and mysterious untimely death. In short, hers was a life ready-made for opera.
But as much as I was eager to cross Adriana Lecouvreur off my operas-I-still-have-to-check-out list, I was even more thrilled at the prospect of hearing the international starry cast that had been tapped to perform it, including superstar Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, super-hot Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, ever-reliable Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, and irresistible Italian baritone Ambrogio Maestri. An ensemble of singers so exceptional that this new production was premiered at the Met’s glittery New Year’s Eve gala. Add to that a bunch of raving reviews, and we had a packed opera house on Saturday evening.
Lately my mom has been checking out the Met productions on my calendar ahead of me from France via the HD broadcasts. Although her very traditional tastes do not always line up with mine (Do female singers still need to wear such puffy dresses?), we tend to agree on the quality of the singing. In the case of Adriana Lecouvreur, her feedback had been superlative in all regards, including the production and the opera itself, which according to her had all the right ingredients to be a classic. Now my turn had finally come.
It is probably a safe bet to assume that these days Anna Netrebko and her sky-high level of bankability can ask pretty much everything she wants from opera houses and get it. And it is to her credit that, instead of relying on her impressive laurels, she has been steadily expanding her repertoire and tackling exciting new parts every season. With that in mind, it only made sense that she would come across Adriana Lecouvreur and grab it sooner than later, the role of a passionate artist living for her art and her lover being too juicy for her to pass on.
And on Saturday night it did, in fact, fit her like a glove. Clad in elaborate period costume that perfectly emphasized her luscious curves, she put her trademark charisma, irrepressible energy and innate sense of theatricality to the best possible use as the actress who is always in control of her craft, but not so much of her life. Her voice was as intensely gorgeous as ever, and those long lines of hers have remained an absolute marvel to behold. Let’s face it, the woman could win any breathing contest far ahead of the competition, and while maintaining her impeccable glamour too.
Her mighty rival for Maurizio’s heart and, incidentally, sheer lung power, was newcomer who is definitely here to stay Anita Rachvelishvili. Opera aficionados are still talking about their blazing confrontation in Aida on that same stage last fall, but it now pales compared to the all-out glorious cat fight they got into on Saturday night. That said, Rachvelishvili was a force of nature to beckon with even when she was alone. Despite some occasionally touching signs of insecurity, this willful princess was not be denied, and she sure knew how to get her point across.
In between those two commanding women stood the man they were fighting their heart out over, the dashing Maurizio, Count of Saxony, who was splendidly portrayed by Piotr Beczala, all convincing cunning with just the right touch of romanticism. In outstanding singing shape, his voice easily going up and down at will, he spent the evening hard at work trying to sort out his personal and professional life.
In the smaller but most endearing role of Michonnet, the paternal stage manager desperately in love with Adriana, Ambrogio Maestri and his booming voice were all-around terrific, whether he was authoritatively trying to keep stage hands and artists under control or awkwardly trying to express his feelings to the object of his affection.
Adriana Lecouvreur takes place in the theater milieu, right where art and politics intersect and mingle, and in David McVicar’s safe hands, all the world was a stage indeed. Adroitly using dressing rooms, stage wings and a temporary stage set up in a private villa, he successfully created a wildly entertaining environment where play and reality, mistaken identities and intrigues, all mixed together. The sets were unquestionably attractive, the costumes downright lavish, and at times the mood seemed to interestingly verge on genuine camp.
The sustained pace and the ever-evolving plot were supported by a sumptuously lyrical score that kept on coming up with pretty melodies, show-stopping arias, as well as moments of gripping drama, quieter introspectiveness and unbearable suspense. It was the perfect vehicle for the stupendous singers we had on the stage, and they all happily delved into it. Not to be outdone, the MET orchestra delivered another outstanding performance under maestro Noseda’s energetic baton.
It turned out that my seatmate to the right had also been at the matinee of Pelléas et Mélisande that day too, but, unlike me, she had found it “slow and dreary”. She was, however, absolutely delighted by the big colors, big voices and big emotions of Adriana Lecouvreur. And this time, I totally agreed.