A DELIRIOUS ADRIANA
Scheduled at the Bologna Teatro Comunale in May 2020 and postponed until a later date (it will possibly be rescheduled, in the original theatrical guise, as soon as possible), Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur becomes something in between film and opera. Not exactly a film-opera, since it is shot entirely in the spaces of the Bolognese Theater, mostly on the stage (or in the backstage, suitably adapted) or, in the case of the duet between Maurizio and the Princess, in a small, specially prepared ‘inside set’.
The idea proposed by the director, Rosetta Cucchi, is to stage the four acts of the opera in four different years across three different centuries. The reasons for the choice of these particular years are frankly not entirely clear, apart from 1730, the year of death of the ‘real’ Adriana Lecouvreur. As for 1968, we suspect that the year of the great ‘protest’ is an easy reference that never hurts. But the protagonist’s all-black look could rather suggest the Nouvelle Vague (which has nothing to do with ’68, since the Nouvelle Vague dates back to the end of the 1950s) than the student revolt. That was one of the many details that bothered us, and which we will return to later.
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Music: *see review*
As we have probably pointed out elsewhere, in principle we are decidedly opposed to time transpositions, since we believe that, in 99% of cases, they make very little sense, even when, as happens in this opera film, they do not completely distort the story told by the libretto. The justifications put forward by the director, which are rather stretched in our opinion, are the universal value of the theater (a statement certainly not contestable, but not even something that must be explained to opera fans, who are already absolutely aware of it), on the one hand, and the immutability over time of feelings such as love, passion, jealousy, and the happiness and suffering they can cause, on the other hand. We believe that operagoers are also well aware of this, and therefore, in our opinion, the aim of the operation is more to ‘create curiosity’ than ‘create beauty and emotion’, which we believe is the theatre’s mission.
We must admit, however, that having had to attend Rosetta Cucchi‘s other stagings – for example, a Don Giovanni set in New York in the ‘Reagan’ years (so the director herself stated), with the attempted rape of Donna Anna on the hood of a yellow taxi; a Favorite in a sci-fi setting, with a nursery of extinct plants preserved by the monks and a kind of harem populated by all strictly pregnant women; a L’elisir d’amore set in a school for artists like those found in ‘Fame’, but in a degenerate American suburb – this Adriana Lecouvreur is not one of her worst.
Once the concept has been accepted (we have to…), the story develops fairly faithfully to the original, giving the possibility even to an inexperienced audience to understand at least the logical thread, albeit with the moments of disorientation caused by the sudden changes of centuries. And there also are moments resolved in an interesting and effective way, such as the duet-clash between Adriana and the Princess which takes place in two contiguous boxes of the theater.
As for the details we mentioned, they are numerous, and, for an attentive viewer, often annoying. Just to give some examples, in the First Act, Michonnet’s line ‘Eccoci soli alfine’ (‘Here we are alone at last’) does not even match that minute of loneliness the unhappy lover thought about, since at that moment we see Adriana animatedly discussing a scene with another actor. Particularly ugly (we can’t find another word) seemed to us the moment – one of the opera’s most touching and delicate – of Michonnet’s monologue while he spies, from the wings, on Adriana acting onstage.
The idea of showing us close ups of Adriana, who obviously limits herself to gesticulating by moving her lips (‘goldfish effect’, a reviewer rightly called it) is really one of the negative points of the direction. Not to mention Michonnet’s idea of filming Adriana’s despair, in the Fourth Act, with an amateur camera, which instead of evoking empathy suggests voyeurism. Furthermore, the staging even risks becoming ridiculous in the Third Act. If it can be considered normal in the eighteenth century for a gallant ‘abate’ to also organise the prince’s feasts, seeing it done in a trendy 1930s club by a Catholic priest in cassock really defies all logic.
After having to clarify the staging of the opera, we now need to deal with the most important part, which is the vocal and musical one. Unfortunately, the triple passage, from the recording, carried out live during
the performances of the scenes (I leave it to the reader to imagine how demanding it was for the singers), to the subsequent mixing and editing and finally to the television broadcast, leave very little room for the possibility of giving a judgment that has some value.
Although these operations have the indisputable merit of keeping the interest in opera alive, in an extremely difficult moment, the voices, the music, even the scenic aspect itself cannot have absolutely the same value, once filtered through so many interventions that are alien to a regular in-house performance…. not to mention the editing, which makes us see the various scenes not with our eyes, but with the eyes of those who choose the shots. As for the sound, that is even more difficult to judge, due to all the possibilities (and also, in some cases, the need) of technical manipulation. Suffice it to say that many TV viewers have observed how the sound of the RAI broadcast (sometimes also fluctuating in volume) was different, and of lower quality, than what can currently be heard on the RAI web app Raiplay. Of course, the original sound, as heard in an opera house, eludes us, at least partially.
That’s why we think it would be very unfair to judge singers. We have already listened live, on several occasions, to both Luciano Ganci (Maurizio di Sassonia) and Veronica Simeoni (the Princess of Bouillon), both making their debut in their respective roles. Therefore, we noticed even more clearly the drawbacks of the recorded audio. About the protagonist, the Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais – also at her debut as Adriana – we can say we appreciated her qualities as an actress, especially effective in the Fedra monologue and in the dramatic Four Act. Actually, all the singers turned out to be very good actors, and we assume that they responded well to the intentions of the director (even in the cases when we do not necessarily share enthusiasm for those intentions). It would also be fair to say that Opolais has more than good diction in the recited parts, which is certainly not easy for a non-Italian. Veronica Simeoni draws a Princess who is maybe too ‘hot’, almost convulsive while recalling the intercourse with Maurizio, but very effective in the role of a woman of rank, arrogant and vindictive. Baritone Nicola Alaimo is the only one who already had experience with the role, and it showed. His Michonnet is really ‘true’ and touching. As for Maurizio, our suspicion is that the director did not care too much about characterising him. Perhaps she shares the typically feminist opinion that males are always callous and unkind. So, when Maurizio walked into Adriana’s dressing room, rudely appropriating the only chair and even stepping on her scripts, we almost expected him to put his feet on the table as well … and that means a completely distorted vision of the character. The Count of Saxony is undoubtedly an arrogant, ambitious man, and perhaps low in the scruples department when it comes to love and politics, but he certainly is not capable of being rude, all the more to a woman.
This is also one of the many annoying details we took note of (perhaps the saying ‘the devil is in the detail’ is true here?). Maurizio then disappears from the scene of the Fourth Act, represented only as a hallucination of Adriana’s, so the out-of-stage recorded voice is all the more impossible to appreciate, being artificially haloed.
If we add that the orchestra is spaced out in the stalls, and the singers only see the conductor’s back, we do not believe that there is much else to add… except that it is truly amazing, and a compliment to all the artists and people involved, if in the end a product was born which, without being exceptional, is on the whole enjoyable. An acceptable palliative, waiting for the real cure … the return of live opera and live audience to the theatres.