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Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur (1902)
Mirella Freni (soprano) - Adriana Lecouvreur; Peter Dvorsky (tenor) - Maurizio; Ivo Vinco (bass) - Principe di Bouillon; Ernesto Gavazzi (tenor) - L’Abate di Chazeuil; Alessandro Cassis (baritone) - Michonnet; Giuseppe Riva (bass) - Quinault; Osvaldo Di Credico (tenor) - Poisson; Patrizia Dordi (soprano) - Jouvenot; Sara Mingardo (contralto) - Dangeville
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Milan/Gianandrea Gavazzeni.
All regions. Dolby Digital Stereo. English Subtitles. 4:3. 16/9 Anamorphic.
Rec. Teatro alla Csala, Milan, in 1989.
OPUS ARTE OA LS3011 D [159’00]

A departure for DVD bookletting here. Instead of a short essay of dubious interest, we are presented with a brief synopsis and the entire libretto in the original Italian, with no translations. The credit side is the opera itself, sparkling and touching by turns. The conductor, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, is, to go by audience enthusiasm, markedly popular at La Scala. It is indeed true that the orchestra responds to his direction with a commendable mix of warmth, wit and accuracy of note and tuning. Passages in which the orchestra get to shine (the Act 3 ballet, for example) remain highlights in their own right.

Throughout one is struck by Cilea’s sense of dramatic timing, unerringly conveyed by the conductor. Act 1 seems perfectly constructed to include contrasts yet makes perfect sense.

Fitting that the most impressive cast member takes the title role. Mirella Freni’s portrayal of Adriana puts all of her colleagues, some of them excellent in themselves, in the shade. Her parlando is a dramatic triumph, and when it contrasts with emotional outpouring she surely captures the effect the composer intended. As she describes her fears later in Act 1 she is superbly believable. ‘Io son l’umile ancella’ is a marvellous lyric outpouring wherein Freni exhibits supreme breath control; the cheers of the Milan audience are fully justified. Of course Act 4 is her great act, and Freni gives it her all. She is beautifully sad at ‘Povero fiori’ - this is surely Freni at her very best.

Peter Dvorsky, in the form of Maurizio, makes a larger than life entrance. His ‘La dolcissima effigie’ is nicely, if not overly, ardent, working to a fine climax, underpinned excellently by the La Scala orchestra. He is, however, somewhat overshadowed by Alessandro Cassis’ Michonnet, whose Act 1 ‘Ecco il monologo’, with Cilea’s effective, sparse low cello accompaniment, is magnificent. A pity also that in Act 4, when heard against Freni’s Adriana, it is obvious she is an excellent actress; Dvorsky tries hard to be a good actor.

Fiorenza Cossotto’s dramatic senses are tellingly conveyed in her opening of Act 2, ‘Acerba volutta, dolce torura’ as she waits for Maurizio, consumed by jealousy; again, the Milan audience makes its appreciation known. She can wobble, though - try around ‘O vagabonda stella d’Oriente’. Dvorsky, when he appears, is more involved than previously. The heart-breaking solo violin that marks Adriana’s entrance seems also to welcome Freni’s excellence, as if to confirm the ‘star’ has arrived. And so it appears. Gavazzeni delivers a warm, rounded orchestral sonority to underpin the action.

Ernesto Gavazzi ensures that L’Abate di Chazeuil emerges as delightful caricature; and his duet with the focused Principe de Bouillon, Ivo Vinco, means that each reveals the other’s strengths. Gavazzi’s pitching towards the start of Act 3 is pure delight, as is his beautiful catalogue of affectations. Quinault is strong.

Sets are traditional but unerringly cast (try the marvellous ‘evening’ feel to the opening of Act 4).

Difficult to say why this piece seems not to be fully accorded its due stature, especially when given as vividly as here. A controversial description might be to call it ‘superior Puccini’, as Cilea’s contains all of the emotions without so obviously playing to the rafters. Maybe that is to overstate the point, but I do encourage those who do not yet know this magnificent opera to investigate this DVD.

Colin Clarke

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