Barbara Frittoli’s Adriana Lecouvreur Unforced

SpainSpain Francesco Cilea, Adriana Lecouvreur: Symphony Orchestra & Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Maurizio Benini (conductor), Liceu, Barcelona, 21 – 23.5.2012 (JMI)

Co-production of London’s Covent Garden, the Vienna Staatsoper, Paris Opera, San Francisco Opera, and the Liceau

Direction: David McVicar (original), Justin Way (Barcelona revival)
Sets: Charles Edwards
Costumes: Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting: Adam Silverman
Choreography: Andrew George


Adriana: Barbara Frittoli / Daniela Dessì / Micaela Carosi
Maurizio: Roberto Alagna / Fabio Armiliato / Carlo Ventre
Princess Bouillon: Dolora Zajick / Marianne Cornetti / Elisabetta Fiorillo
Michonet: Juan Pons / Bruno de Simone
Prince Bouillon: Giorgio Giuseppini / Stefano Palatchi
Abate Chazeuil: Francisco Vas

Picture courtesy Barcelona's Liceu, © Antoni Bofill

Adriana Lecouvreur is the only opera by Francesco Cilea that has not disappeared from the repertoire of opera houses, but it’s still rather rare. With so much uneven music, it needs two great singers to justify any revival.

The Liceu has performed the opera in 1903, just months after its premiere in Milan. Since then it put it on in eight different opera seasons, always—almost—with top singers in the main roles. Adriana has been sung by the likes of Maria Caniglia, Renata Tebaldi, Montserrat Caballé, and Mirella Freni (the latter two twice each). Maurizio has seen tenors like Jose Carreras (twice), Jaime Aragall, and Placido Domingo at the Liceu. Add to these names now those of Barbara Frittoli and Roberto Alagna.

available at Amazon
F.Cilea, Adriana Lecouvreur,
M.Elder / Royal Opera
A.Gheorghiu, J.Kaufmann et al.
Production D.McVicar
Decca DVD

available at Amazon
F.Cilea, Adriana Lecouvreur,
M.Elder / Royal Opera
A.Gheorghiu, J.Kaufmann et al.
Production D.McVicar
Decca blu-ray

The production is by David McVicar and premiered at Covent Garden in November 2010, with Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann heading the cast. David McVicar is one of the most sought after stage directors today and his works are usually not particularly provocative. That’s certainly true for this opera, since re-interpretations, radical departure from tradition, and transpositions seem to make much less sense than in other operas.

David McVicar’s production makes the theater the true star of the opera. The libretto and this production pay tribute to the theater of the 18th century, which is the thread that goes through all four acts of the opera. The costumes are attractive, the lighting good, and so is Mr. McVicar’s stage direction, paying a lot of attention to all the interpreters on stage, as he does. It would still be a miracle to give life and interest to such a weak libretto, though, and miracles even McVicar is incapable of. In sum, it is an attractive production, very traditional, and to the liking of the audience. Expect enjoyment, not insights.

Without an excellent conductor this opera is lost, and the Liceu was lucky to have Maurizio Benini. I’ve always found him a very reliable maestro, but this time his performance was particularly convincing. He conducted with care, offered an inspired reading, and helped the singers along the way. Even the orchestra was above average.

Barbara Frittoli, who made her debut in the character of Adriana Lecouvreur, was truly outstanding. She was a good choice on paper, but perhaps lacking the temperament Adriana needs. But on stage she displayed no diffidence, excelled in both arias, and particularly impressively solved the Fedra monologue. I had the impression that she prepared her interpretation following the unforgettable Mirella Freni, since there was not one forced note, and no verismo excess. It was the best performance I remember from Barbara Frittoli.

Daniela Dessì was not at the same level in the alternative cast. She has serious problems in the upper range where her soprano becomes very tired. There is an interesting singer hiding in her, peeping out whenever she sings softly. Micaela Carosi was the most dramatic soprano of the three. She is true spinto soprano better suited for the main Verdi repertoire than this opera. There was a time when the character Adriana was identified with these kind of voices, but Mirella Freni showed us a different and definitively better kind of voice for Adriana. Micaela Carosi’s unconvincing performance started with an “Io son l’umile ancella” with a verismo line and ended her version of “Poveri fiori” more powerfully than moving.

Roberto Alagna, at his best in the last act, proved a very good Maurizio in outstanding voice. Now he just needs more expressive conviction to make the role really his. Both “La dolcissima effigie” and “L’anima ho stanca” were excellent. Fabio Armiliato meanwhile disappointed. In a year this tenor has become a shadow of his former self. It was not solely a vocal problem, but also of lack of self-confidence, that easily transmitted to the audience. I hope this is just a temporary problem. Uruguayan tenor Carlo Ventre did better in the part. He has the right voice for the role, with a murky middle register but a rich top. He is not a singer of many nuances, but he is always generous with the few he has.

Dolora Zajick is a failproof singer: Her Princess of Bouillon was a real vocal treat. This great singer still retains her fresh voice without having lost any of her legendary power. If there are three longevity-miracles in the world of opera (Plácido Domingo at 71, Leo Nucci at 70, and Edita Gruberova at 65), Dolora Zajick (60) might well be the forth one. Marianne Cornetti was a serviceable Princess with a voice of some power but signs of fatigue at the top which did not exist a couple of years back. Elisabetta Fiorillo was uneven and unconvincing. She has two very different voices: Her low register is sonorous and attractive, the upper part is of poor quality and betraying the unkind passage of time.

Forty years ago, Juan Pons sang in his first Adriana Lecouvreur at the Liceu. Then he was Quinault, now he was a very good Michonet. Turning 66 in a few months, he’s another example of successful vocal longevity.Bruno de Simone is better suited for buffo roles, but despite a mediocre voice he managed to be a good interpreter of Michonnet for the second and third cast. Francisco Vas’ Abate was a luxurious comprimario, while Giorgio Giuseppini’s quality Prince di Bouillon was far ahead of Stefano Palatchi’s.

José Mª Irurzun