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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 22 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 34
Too beautiful for its own good?
Arts & Entertainment
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Too beautiful for its own good?

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

FRANCESCO CILEA'S
ADRIANA LECOUVREUR
DECCA BLU-RAY


If you don't require a novel or gripping plot, opera videos don't come much better than this new Blu-ray of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur. The music is gorgeous; the production from Covent Garden is tight and attractive; and the singing/acting is wonderful. Soprano Angela Gheorghiu sometimes bores me, but not here. She is at the height of her powers and is perfectly suited to this role. Tenor Jonas Kaufmann, aside from singing well, adds dimension to an otherwise uninteresting character. Mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina is vocally spectacular and acts effortlessly. Finally, Alessandro Corbelli is perfect in every way for his role in this love quadrangle.

That such a musically attractive opera as this is so seldom staged raises interesting questions about what makes a great opera great. As regular readers well know, my overriding passion in opera is for those singers whose combination of voice, technique and artistry can raise the hairs on my arms and make me sob with excess of emotion. So, even with such a cast as this one, why is this work not in my top 10 or even top 20? The answer lies in the clich├ęs of the plot. Why does the silly plot of Verdi's Il Trovatore not at all impede the thrills I can get from its singers? That plot, however silly, is nonetheless fun and dramatic, while giving the singers plenty to get passionate about. In Adriana Lecouvreur we're confined to little more than the frustrations of the loves of all the characters. I find that boring.

And, let's face it: Cilea is no Verdi. He writes beautifully for the voice, and his orchestrations are fun and interesting. But the music is almost too gorgeous...too close to the purely sentimental. Was Cilea too concerned with beauty to dig below the surface into earthy emotion?

Having said all that, this is a very enjoyable disc. The recording engineers did a good job, giving us a DTS HD Master Audio surround sound that is free of distortion and well balanced. Conductor Mark Elder keeps everything lively and sparkling. Director David McVicar moves people around the stage so well that the back-stage opening scene is a marvel of tightly coordinated entrances and exits. Sets and costumes are lush (to match the music?). I can't imagine a better production.

If you are not familiar with Angela Gheorghiu, this is the perfect way to learn of her many talents. She is a beautiful woman, and her always-lovely voice is large enough to make the most of musical climaxes without ever pushing her instrument beyond its ample capabilities. This role of a self-obsessed actress is a natural for her. Cilea gives her two lovely arias, which I don't ever expect to hear more beautifully sung. As her two-timing lover, Jonas Kaufmann gives more dimension to the role than is usually encountered. During his liaisons with Olga Borodina, his conflict and deviance leave no doubt as to his character. He's in excellent form and delivers his aria with sweeping phrases, effective dynamics and radiant tone. Borodina's voice is a wonder of dark richness and smooth perfection.

This Decca release is from the 2010 production at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. This is the first time the opera has been mounted there since the very early 20th century, shortly after its composition. With such a cast on hand, I'm very glad that we get the chance to experience what is about as good as this one gets.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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