Online opera guide and synopsis to Francesco Cilea’s ADRIANA LECOUVREUR
Cilea had a great sense of drama and was a gifted melodist. It is a veritable Primadonna opera and can achieve an extraordinary effect with great voices.
♪ Act I (Theater scene)
♪ Act II (Grange Batelière Scene)
♪ Act III (Souper scene)
♪ Act IV (Death scene)
♪ Ove dunque son’io… Scostatevi profani (death scene)
Roles and Synopsis
Arturo Colautti after the play Adrienne Lecouvreur by Eugène Scribe.
The main roles
Adriana Lecouvreur, actress at the Comédie-Française (soprano) - Maurizio, Count of Saxony (tenor) - Principe, Prince of Bouillon (bass) -Principessa, Princess of Bouillon (mezzo-soprano) - Michonnet, director at the Comédie-Française (baritone) Abbate, Prince of Bouillon's confidant (tenor)
DECCA, Renata Tebaldi, Mario del Monaco und Giulietta Simionato unter der Leitung von Franco Capuana und dem Orchester und Chor der Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rom.
The libretto of this opera is based on a novel by the Frenchman Eugen Scribe and tells about the actual living person of Adrienne Lecouvreur, an actress of the Comédie-Francaise from the 18th century (see below in the section “historical background”). Among other works, Scribe had also written the models for operas by Meyerbeer for the grand opéra, his material was often extravagant and disspated, and so the plot of Adriana Lecouvreur, which Colautti poured into the libretto, is somewhat overburdened and constructed. Cilea was a real theatre man and many of the scenes in this opera are magnificently constructed in a musical and dramatic way, reaching to the best moments of Puccini.
Adriana Lecouvreur is a typical “prima donna opera” that always works brilliantly when the leading role is played by a singer with great charisma. The names of Magda Olivero and Renata Tebaldi remain particularly associated with this role, and you will find various scenes from them in the playlist.
With L’Arlésienne and Adriana Lecouvreur, Cilea has written two operas that have lasting validity. He wrote both before he was 36 years old. It is the tragedy of an artist to have already experienced the climax at a young age. He fell silent at the age of 40, later only minor incidental works were published.
“Adriana Lecouvreur” had to accept criticism again and again. That it has also weaker scenes, that 3 or 4 motives appear again and again without having harmonic developments, and that the music is very theatrical. On the other hand it must be acknowledged that Cilea had a great sense of drama, showed himself to be a gifted melodist, and that the opera can achieve an extraordinary effect with great voices.
ADRIANA LECOUVREUR ACT I
Synopsis: On a theatre stage. The actors are in hectic preparation for an evening performance. The evening’s female lead actors are the Duclos and Adriana Lecouvreur. Michonnet, the director of the house, is busy making the final arrangements. Michonnet is secretly in love with Adriana Lecouvreur. The Prince of Bouillon, a patron of the theatre and secret lover of the Duclos, appears in the company of his aide, the Abbé. The two of them gallantly flirt with the ladies on stage.
The dialoguing passages like at this point, where the singers cut each others words off, are charming and accompanied by beautiful motives, which results in a galant French effect. They are very skilfully written in a chivalrous style and contrast strongly with the contemporary effect-oriented operas of Verismo, even if the opera is culturally and historically assigned to Verismo.
Madamigella, come vi chiamerem stasera – D’Artegna / Ginzer / Sénéchal Stuart / Terfel
The Adriana of Magda Olivero – “Io son l’umile ancella“
Synopsis: Adriana appears. She rejects the flattery and declares herself to be merely the humble servant to the creative genius.
Various scenes of this opera are a play within a play. This is an interesting effect, which already Cilea’s comtemporary Leoncavallo made use of in “Pagliacci”. Adriana presents herself as a sincere artist, acting with the same depth as she loves the human Maurizio. Critics occasionally dismiss the aria as a languishing piece, but it gives the artist an outstanding opportunity to fill the role with her personality.
In the first recording of the playlist, we hear Magda Olivero. Cilea is said to have preferred her to all other singers. Shortly before his death, Cilea wanted to hear her one final tima and after her withdrawal from the opera due to her marriage, she sang the role again in 1951. Unfortunately too late for Cilea, who had died a few months earlier. Olivero was a outstanding singer-actress. She knew how to make her heroines appear both strong and fragile. Olivero was a verismo-soprano par excellence and her interpretations (like this one) are very expressive. Sobbing, heavy breathing and other stylistic elements were part of her repertoire of expression. So she had a dyed-in-the-wool fan community that accompanied her everywhere.
Io son l’umile ancella – Olivero
We also hear Renata Tebaldi in this opening aria. Her interpretation is touching and the voice is velvety soft and the expansions are great.
Io son l’umile ancella – Tebaldi
In the playlist you will find an interesting document of the great Rosa Ponselle, one of the most outstanding Adriana in history. There are no recordings of her from the twenties, only house music from 1953 (in her late fifties), when she accompanied herself on the piano and a friend of hers had a recorder with him.
Io son l’umile ancella – Ponselle
Probably the best Adriana of the beginning of the 21st century is Anna Netrebko. With a darker, more mature voice, Anna Netrebko delighted audiences in New York and Salzburg in 2019, especially in the lyric parts of this opera.
Io son l’umile ancella – Netrebko
Maurizio’s appearance with the aria “la dolcissima effigie”
Synopsis: In a short break Michonnet plucks up his courage and wants to confess his love to Adriana, whom he has loved for 5 years. He tells her about a recent inheritance and marriage plans. When he wants to confess his love to her, Adriana tells him, in secrecy, that she also loves a man. It’s Maurizio. An ensign of the Count of Saxony. She doesn’t know that Maurizio is in fact the Count himself. Maurizio was wounded, and she heard he is now in town. At that moment, Maurizio appears. He confesses his love to her.
Domingo sang Maurizio just over thirty times in his career. He made his Met debut in this role in 1968, but not as planned, because that evening Franco Corelli was scheduled to sing Maurizio and Domingo as understudy 5 days later. Domingo wanted to attend the performance that evening and had rehearsed hard all day at the Met for Turandot. Corelli cancelled the performance only 40 minutes before the official start and Rudolf Bing, the Met’s opera director, called Domingo at the hotel and told him he had to fill in. Domingo, who was about to shave and get ready for the opera, was upset because he was sure Corelli had cancelled at such short notice so Domingo would have to step in and get the appropriate criticism after a bad evening. But things turned out differently. The evening became a triumph and Renata Tebaldi, the Adriana of the evening, was full of praise for her partner. We hear Placido Domingo with a recording from this year.
La dolcissima effigie – Domingo
We hear a second version from Carlo Bergonzi. He is a lyrical tenor with a beautiful voice and great technique. The recording is inspired by his great musicality and the flow of the voice.
La dolcissima effigie – Bergonzi
Adriana hands Maurizio the violet bouquet
Synopsis: Adriana wants to help him ask the prince for his promotion. But Maurizio doesn’t want that and promises to wait for her at the stage exit after the performance. Adriana gives him a bouquet of violets as a pledge. The Abbé and the Prince appear. The abbé holds a letter from the Duclos in his hand, which he intercepted. The Prince of Bouillon is jealous and wants to know what the letter says. It is an invitation to a man to a meeting of a highly political matter at her home. What he does not know is that the Duclos wrote the letter on behalf of the Princess of Bouillon. The recipient is the Count of Saxony, who is staying in a box that evening. The prince sees politics only as a pretext and wants to blow up the alleged rendezvous by announcing a party for the actors after the performance that evening. Backstage Michonnet laments his fate.
Ecco il monologo – Bastiannini
Synopsis: He has to give a letter to an actress as a prop. But he can’t find it. Then Maurizio appears with the Duclos’ letter in his hand. He wants to tell Adriana that he has to leave the theater and that he can’t see her tonight. Meanwhile the play has started and he has the idea to give the letter to Michonnet as a prop, and so Adriana as the recipient, would receive the information in this way. Maurizio leaves the theater and does not learn that Adriana is agitated when she receives the letter. Meanwhile, the prince invites the troupe to his home for dinner.
Adriana avrà due mie parole – del Monaco / Fioravanti
ADRIANA LECOUVREUR ACT II
Adriana’s rival presents herself with “Acerba volluttà”
Synopsis: At the Duclos’ mansion. The Princess of Bouillon awaits the Count of Saxony. She is excited.
The contrast between the two rivals around Maurizio’s heart could not be greater. On the one hand the conscientious Adriana and on the other hand the princess, driven by lower emotions. The music begins with a feverish motif in the orchestra and with the following words her aria begins:
Bitter pleasure, soft torture,
the slowest agony and sudden offence.
Fire, ice, trembling, craving, fear
this is what waiting is to a loving heart.
Cilea worked in this opera with leitmotivs. The theme of this aria will later be quoted in the death scene of Adriana. In the second part, at the thought of Maurizio, the singing and the accompaniment becomes lyrical, the prayer to the evening star is lively yet tender.
Anita Rachvelishvili is a rising star in the opera sky. A mezzo-soprano with a rich voice and beautiful depth and height.
Acerba volluttà – Anita Rachvelishvili
Synopsis: Maurizio was an admirer of the princess and she lobbied for him at the king’s court. She warns him that influential circles want to see him in prison and recommends him to leave Paris. She sees the violets on his lapel and is jealous. She resignedly realizes that Maurizio’s heart belongs to another and wants to know her name.
L’anima ho stanca – Corelli
We hear a second interpretation by Jonas Kaufmann. He thrilled the audience in the role of Maurizio. He sings this aria with a melancholy that gets under your skin.
L’anima ho stanca – Kaufmann
Adriana and Maurizio meet surprisingly
Synopsis: Despite her insistence, Maurizio refuses to give her name. At this very moment they hear a carriage. Panic seizes the Princess when she realizes that it is her husband and she hides in a side room. Maurizio receives the Prince, who thinks he has caught him in the act. But he doesn’t want to have anything to do with the Duclos anymore and leaves her to the Count, who now realizes the mix-up. Now Adriana arrives as well, who has arranged a meeting with the Prince to ask for support for Maurizio. The Prince introduces Adriana to the Count of Saxony and Adriana recognizes who Maurizio really is. With a wink, the two recognize the masquerade and renew their vow of love.
Ma, dunque è vero – Tebaldi / del Monaco
Adriana saves the princess and discovers a secret
Synopsis: Michonnet shows up. He wanted to see the Duclos to discuss the next play with her and goes into the next room. He meets a lady in the dark, whom he doesn’t recognize. Maurizio has to leave the house and asks Adriana at all costs to prevent anyone from finding out who the lady in the next room is. He swears to her that the whole thing is purely political. Adriana opens the door and gives the stranger a key that leads to the garden. In an exchange of words, the women learn from each other that they are in love with the Count of Saxony. A heated dialogue develops, which is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of the prince. The princess manages to flee unrecognized and Adriana drops into an armchair, stricken with grief. Michonnet appears and shows her a red bracelet which he has found on the ground.
Eccolo aperta – Tebaldi / Simionato
ADRIANA LECOUVREUR ACT III
Synopsis: In the Prince of Bouillon’s palace the preparations for the dinner are underway. Meanwhile the princess has returned and is pondering revenge on her mysterious rival. She notices a powder compact. The Prince takes it away from her, because it is a piece of evidence which he has to analyse as a chemist. It is a highly poisonous substance. The Princess is struck by a sudden inspiration of poisoning her rival with it. Adriana appears. She is introduced to the Princess.
Commossa io sono – Scotto / Obraztsova
The princess recognizes the voice
Synopsis: .Appalled, the princess recognizes the voice. To test it, she invents the story that Maurizio was wounded in a duel. When Adriana feels a sudden faintness, the Princess is sure that Adriana is her rival. Maurizio appears. He was arrested and released. He thanks the Princess, because he thinks the release was thanks to her. He has to tell society about one of his heroic deeds from the war.
Il russo Mencikoff riceve l’ordine – Domingo
Synopsis: Dancers appear and dance a pastoral dance.
Dormi, dormi, o pastorello
Synopsis: During the ballet the princess and Adriana exchange words. Through the mutual unveiling of the violet bouquet and the bracelet, the two recognize each other as rivals. Adriana is asked to recite after the ballet. She chooses a piece whose last movement is about adultery, and she openly addresses the Princess, who swears revenge.
The historic background
The actress Adriana Lecouvreur actually existed. She became famous for her declamatory style. She was long associated with Moritz of Saxony and the Princess of Bouillon was a rival. She was a close friend of Voltaire and interpreter of his works and is said to have died in his arms. Her death at a relatively young age (at the age of 37) led to speculation and provided the framework for the plot of the drama. It is suspected that she actually died of an “abdominal inflammation”, probably dysentery, which was due to the catastrophic hygienic conditions in the French capital.
The work became known as a play 50 years before Cilea’s setting, and was, for example, a role of the great actor Sarah Bernhard (who was also the model for Puccini’s Tosca).Olivero’s recording of the following scene dates from 1959, when, at the age of 55, she stood in for Tebaldi at short notice and won a triumph. Even the Tebaldians threw the red carnations at her. Her vocal stage presence in the declamatory passages is gigantic and the orchestra glows with passion!
Giusto cielo! Che feci in tal giorno – Olivero
ADRIANA LECOUVREUR ACT IV
Adriana has resigned and said goodbye to the theatre
Synopsis: In Adriana’s house
Preludio – Levine
Synopsis: Adriana gave up the theatre when Maurizio was arrested. Michonnet goes to see her at her home.
So ch’ella dorme – Milnes
Synopsis: Adriana welcomes him. She is consumed with pain and jealousy. He asks her to return to the theatre. Nostalgically, the two tell of their unhappy love.
Amico mio…ti sembra insanità…io ne morro, lo sento – Tebaldi / Fioravanti
Synopsis: Four actors enter and congratulate on her name day. The actors tell that the Duclos has left the Count. Michonnet gives Adriana back the necklace she pawned to free Maurizio from the dungeon. He doesn’t tell her that he’s put his inheritance to work.
Una volta era un principe
Adriana is desperate – the morbid mood of “Poveri fiori”
Synopsis: The maid delivers a letter from Maurizio. In the package are the dried violets. Deeply affected, Adriana feels mocked and abandoned.
“Poveri fiori” is a melancholic piece, even more Cilea writes the expression marks “andante triste” in the score. Two stylistic elements characterize this aria. On the one hand, the frequent octave jump of the voice (e.g. “Poveriꜛfiori”) creates the mood of despair of Adriana and dissonant chords in the orchestra on heavy bar parts (“primo”) in the middle part create a morbid mood.
One of the great arts of the Callas was to give voice colours to every single word and note. The octave leaps of this aria get under your skin.
Poveri fiori – Callas
We hear a second interpretation of this aria. We read an apt description of Magda Olivero’s Adriana in Kestings book: “Her voice has the effect of a heavy perfume, an aesthetic aroma. It never attempts to take up the most simplest of all poses: that of naturalness. When she sings “poveri fiori”, the target notes are no longer gestures, but affect poses like a ballerina dancing the dying swan.”
It is the interpretation of a diva (meant quite positively), by “the tragic actress of verismo”, who puts her personal stamp on the aria.
Poveri fiori – Olivero
Maurizio hurries over – Adriana dies in his arms
Synopsis: At this moment Maurizio appears. Michonnet has written to him. He begs Adriana for forgiveness and for her love. Adriana doesn’t believe Maurizio, but when he proposes, the dams break. Suddenly, Adriana shakes, her face pales. She tells him about the violets. Michonnet recognizes them and realizes that they have been poisoned and sent by the princess. The poison works quickly and Adriana begins to fantasize. She dies in the arms of Maurizio.
Ove, dunque son io…Scostatevi profani – Olivero
Recording recommendation of the opera ADRIANA LECOUVREUR
DECCA, Renata Tebaldi, Mario del Monaco and Giulietta Simionato under the direction of Franco Capuana and the Orchestra and Chorus dell’accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma.
Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide on ADRIANA LECOUVREUR by Francesco Cilea.