Controversial Opera Returns to the Met
Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur will be performed at the New York Metropolitan Opera House for their New Year’s Eve Gala. Adriana Lecouvreur is an opera based on the 1849 play by Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouvé. The opera was first performed in 1902 in Milan to mixed reviews, which have continued since. This was not because the subject matter itself is controversial, but rather due to technical aspects of the opera’s composition and performance.
Critic Martin Bernheimer spoke of the opera in 1985: “[It is] hated by purists and adored by sopranos.” He is referring to the fact that the soprano roles are vocally simple and easy when compared to more popular operas such as La Boheme or The Tales of Hoffman. An easy role can be like a vacation for a performer, when they must be in peak physical and emotional health for each night of the season. On the other hand, “purists” in the audience may be disappointed by the lack of technical difficulty displayed.
Two more points of critique are the plot and character development. The storyline and libretto (the words) are paradoxical at times, with the main character acting meek in one scene, then publicly shaming her rival in the next. This could very well be meant to demonstrate her fickleness, however, as in one conversation she claims to seek truth, and that she has not been trained in music by any “great masters”, only to backtrack when she sees her teacher listening in.
One of the misconceptions about the show is that divas love it. In 1937, Rosa Ponselle failed to land the lead role and immediately retired. This prompted rumors that her failure to secure the part destroyed her desire to perform. This idea is no surprise to singers. Opera performers are well known for being “divas”, no matter the show. In a world where your self-worth is dictated by the naked expression of self that is singing, is it any wonder?
Another false impression is that the lead role is best suited to older performers. Magda Olivaro, one of the opera’s more popular leads, continued to perform excerpts from Adriana Lecouvreur well into her eighties. The Met’s lead soprano, however, is Anna Netrebko, a woman in the prime of her career and world-renowned for her passion and skill. Her performance is strong evidence that the role is not just for those “over the hill”.
In light of the above, the tide of critical perception of Lecouvreur is turning. This New Year’s Eve, Adriana Lecouvreur will be performed at the Met, starring soprano Anna Netrebko, and joined by tenor Piotr Beczała, mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, and baritone Ambrogio Maestri. The performance will be conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, and staged by Sir David McVicar.
Some ideas from “Striking Points” by David J. Bake from Dec. 2018 Opera News
Photo courtesy of MetOpera.net