Adriana Lecouvreur

Michael-Fabiano-as-Maurizio-and-Natalie-Aroyan-as-Adriana-Lecouvreur-in-Opera-Australia's-2023-production-of-Adriana-Lecouvreur-at-the-Sydney-Opera-House-photo-by-Keith-SaundersOpera Australia had assembled a dream cast to perform Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur in a lavish production co-produced with Teatro Comunale Di Bologna and Opera Oviedo.

It included superstar Albanian soprano, Ermonela Jaho, Romanian mezzo-soprano, Carmen Topciu, American tenor, Michael Fabiano and Italian baritone, Giorgio Caoduro,

Imagine the collective intake of breath when Tahu Matheson took the stage on opening night to announce that sadly, because she had developed a nasty cough, Ermonela Jaho, was unable to perform.

But before anyone could react, he quickly added that Natalie Aroyan had been persuaded to step in and perform the demanding title role, adding the assurance that she was across the role and the audience was in for an exciting performance. He was not wrong.

Based on the life of French actress Adrienne Lecouvreur the events portrayed in the opera are largely fictional, and the libretto surely among the most confusing ever written. Rosetta Cucchi’s concept for this production, where each of the four acts take place in a different time period, does little to clarify the storyline.

In fact it makes it more difficult to keep track of the various characters. However, her concept does provide opportunity for some lovely settings, beautiful costumes and a succession of memorable moments to highlight the beautiful melodies and incidental music strewn through the opera which conductor Leonardo Sini celebrates with his sensitive, detailed conducting of the Opera Australia orchestra.

The opera opens with a bustling back-stage scene at the Comedie-francaise in 1732. Here Adriana (Natalie Aroyan) is revealed dramatically rehearsing her lines for her appearance as Roxanne in Racine’s Bajazet.

The stage manager Michonnet (Giorgio Caoduro)) is trying to pluck up the courage to declare his love for Adriana when she reveals that she’s in love with Maurizio (Michael Fabiano), a handsome officer who conveniently arrives to declare his love for her. In response, Adriana gifts him a posy of violets. These violets become the thread, and a critical component for the rest of the story.

No room for more details of the complex plot here. Sufficient to know that Natalie Aroyan was simply magnificent as the diva Lecouvreur. Surprisingly confident given the circumstances, she acted with attack and confidence, delivering her declamatory opening lines with flair then captivated with her lustrous soprano in the opera’s best-known aria, Lo son I’umile ancollar (I am the humble servant of the creative spirit).

Matching her, as Adriana’s arch-enemy and rival for Maurizio’s affections, Carmen Topciu  was equally impressive both vocally and dramatically, her darkly hued mezzo perfectly contrasting and complimenting Aroyan’s velvety soprano. Topciu’s second act solo Acerba volutta, dolce tortura during which she expresses her fears that Maurizio may be unfaithful, was one of the vocal highlights of the evening.

Handsome and heroic as Maurizio, the object of Adriana’s affections, Michael Fabiano thrilled with his opening aria, la dolcissima effigie, fully justifying his reputation as one of the finest tenors around. His voice too effectively contrasted with that of Giorgio Caoduro, as the tragic Michonnet, particularly in the final act when the dying Adriana refuses to recognise Michonnet, instead mistaking him for Maurizio.

It was in this stark scene that Cucchi’s concept was at its most powerful, allowing the audience to understand Adriana’s mental confusion through the clever use of video images.

Strong supporting performances by Virgilio Marino (the Abbe), Richard Anderson (the Prince), Anthony Mackey (Quinault), Adam Player (Poisson) Jane Ede (Mlle Jouvenot), Angela Hogan (Mlle Dangerville) and the ever-reliable Opera Australia Chorus enhanced the action.

Tiziano Santi’s settings which included a romantic candle-lit villa for  Act 2; the lavish costume ball during which aerialist Brendan Irving’s thrilling silks act, and a spectacular Loie Fuller style dance performed by choreographer Luisa Baldinetti, all contributed significantly a memorable evening of truly grand opera.

Adriana Lecouvreur
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney
Performance: Monday 20 February 2023
Season continues to 7 March 2023
Information and Bookings:

Image: Michael Fabiano as Maurizio and Natalie Aroyan as Adriana Lecouvreur in Opera Australia’s 2023 production of Adriana Lecouvreur at the Sydney Opera House – photo by Keith Saunders

Review: Bill Stephens OAM