Monday, 14 January 2019

Cilea - Adriana Lecouvreur (New York, 2019)

Francesco Cilea - Adriana Lecouvreur

Metropolitan Opera, 2019

Gianandrea Noseda, David McVicar, Anna Netrebko, Anita Rachvelishvili, Piotr Beczała, Carlo Bosi, Ambrogio Maestri, Maurizio Muraro

Met Live in HD - 12th January 2019

Personally, I didn't see much in the remainder of the Met's Live in HD series that would get me back to the cinema, although it might be interesting to see how Robert LePage's Die Walküre stands up in revival with a different cast. Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur isn't an opera I've ever seen performed before, but despite being pleasantly surprised by some other more obscure works from the verismo period, this isn't one I would go out of my way to see. The trailer shown during the screening of Nico Muhly's Marnie however was promising, mainly for the casting. Anna Netrebko alone wouldn't have dragged me in, but as a singer's opera with Anita Rachvelishvili and Piotr Beczała on the bill, chances are you weren't going to see the opera done better than this. In the end, as good as the others were, it would have been worth it for Netrebko alone.

The opera itself I still didn't find wholly convincing or interesting. It's not verismo as such, but then verismo is a very fluid concept that for convenience bands together a group of post-Verdi Italian composers with little in common. In reality each of them was trying in their own way to follow Verdi by injecting or placing a greater emphasis on emotional realism, but only Puccini truly succeeded in establishing his own identity and extending on the Italian opera tradition. Despite there being some intrigue around it being based around real-life events, the romantic love-triangle plot of Adriana Lecouvreur doesn't really lend itself to inspired productions either.

Certainly not when it comes to Sir David McVicar who has certainly earned his place in the establishment with his knighthood by playing it very safe indeed, delivering the kind of stodgy 'authentic' traditional productions that are loved by the rather conservative Met Opera in New York. There's some potential in Adriana Lecouvreur being an actress, a diva on the stage of the Comédie-Française, and you would expect a director like McVicar to be able to make something of that, and indeed, if there's nothing spectacularly dramatic about Adriana Lecouvreur or exceptional about David McVicar's production, it is at least theatrical.

Leaving aside Charles Edwards' overly elaborate and literal sets, which are at least attractive and functional for dramatic purposes with its Comédie-Française theatre stage fitted onto the Met stage, McVicar's emphasis is on the theatrics of the piece, pushing each of the characters to the limits of expression, even permitting a fair amount of scenery chewing. It is after all how the roles are scored by Francesco Cilea, and when you've got a cast as exceptional as this, you're going to let them fly and show how far they can take it. Needless to say Anita Rachvelishvili brought fire to the proceedings and Piotr Beczała his usual earnestness an sophistication, but of course no-one was going to upstage the true diva, Anna Netrebko.

I don't want to indulge in hyperbole or try to judge her by the standards of other great sopranos who have sung this role - particularly as I haven't heard them sing this particular opera - but Netrebko really is something exceptional. I don't think there is any other soprano around at the moment who comes anywhere close in terms of charisma, looks, acting ability, professionalism, technique and the sheer quality of voice - the whole package basically; someone who is capable of taking on an opera as romantic and light as Adriana Lecouvreur in a production as unimaginative as this and transforming it into an event. It's not just that it makes you feel it was worthwhile travelling across town on a precious Saturday evening, but you get the impression that you've witnessed something truly special and unforgettable.

Sometimes I get the impression that despite the easy-going attitude, Netrebko can be a little too studious, over-rehearsed, overly-professional and clinical, failing to really find a human character in what are often larger-than-life roles, but not here. She lived the role of Adriana Lecouvreur in as much as it's a theatrical diva, played in character throughout, with little nuances, grimaces and gestures that brought a human realism, showing real feeling in her acting and her singing, investing it with truth and personality; personality that only someone of Anna Netrebko's stature can bring to this role.

While Netrebko is the centre of attention and where the success of a production of this work will stand or fall, one of the secrets to any great opera production is how all the other elements almost invisibly support it. Yes, that certainly shows a good directorial hand, but the strength of each of the other singers can't be underestimated. Neither Anita Rachvelishvili's Princess of Bouillon as her love rival nor Piotr Beczała as Maurizio, the man caught between these feuding divas, were by any means overshadowed by Netrebko, and both give committed performances with exceptional singing that commanded attention. Ambrogio Maestri and Carlo Bosi contributed to the overall quality of the casting, McVicar pushing all of them as far as far as they could go to show Cilea's work for what it is; which isn't much, I still feel, but I can't imagine I'll see it done better.

There was one other example of Anna Netrebko being the consummate professional here in her response to an unfortunate costume malfunction mishap that occurred during the live performance, which becomes even more of a nightmare when it happens during a live worldwide streamed broadcast. It couldn't have come at a worse time either, during in the final emotional moments of Adriana's death by violets scene (I know, that's Adriana Lecouvreur for you). Helping Adriana up from the floor where she has collapsed after being poisoned by Princess de Bouillon, Ambrogio Maestri's cuff button caught in Netrebko's wig just as she is preparing for her big moment, and in a panic he struggled and tugged to get it out. Not only was Netrebko completely unfazed, she used the moment to energise those soaring final lines for an utterly stunning, show-stopping finale.

Links: Metropolitan Opera
Photos credit: Ken Howard