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Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur (1902)
Montserrat Caballé (soprano) – Adriana Lecouvreur
José Carreras (tenor) – Maurizio
Fiorenza Cossotto (mezzo) – Princess de Bouillon
Attilio d’Orazi (baritone) – Michonnet
Ivo Vinco (bass) – Prince de Bouillon
Piero de Palma (tenor) - Abbé
Union of Japan Professional Choruses
NHK Symphony Orchestra/Gianfranco Masini
rec. live, NHK Hall, Tokyo, 20 September 1976
Originally broadcast on Japanese television
Region Code: 0, Aspect Ratio 4:3, LPCM
VAI 4435 [147:00] 


Experience Classicsonline

No-one would hold up Adriana Lecouvreur as an example of great musical theatre, and it has all but disappeared from our modern stage mostly, I suspect, due to its laughable plot which culminates in the heroine dying by poisoned violets!  This old-school DVD, however, serves it as well as you could imagine with the singers treating this load of old tosh far more seriously than some would say it deserves.

This is another one of the remarkable series of Lirica Italiana films, showing Japanese TV relays of big Italian troupes on tour in Tokyo.  VAI have cornered the niche in releasing these, and there are some truly astonishing titles in the series.  This one came later than most, which means that at least it’s in stereo, even if the sound is rather boxy.  The picture quality is pretty grainy, however, and as with all these VAI Japanese relays, there are Japanese subtitles embedded into the picture which you cannot remove.  The best you can hope for is to mask them with the English translation over the top, and after a while you can just about zone them out. 

No need to go into the story of this opera here: it’s famously inconsistent due to cuts that Cilea made during the rehearsal period, and the nonsensical plot twists would challenge even the most enthusiastic devotee of verismo.  Let’s focus on the performances, which are absolutely tremendous.  In the title role Caballé is on cracking form.  Somewhat like Callas, Caballé live is preferable to Caballé in the studio: she rises to the excitement of the occasion producing (almost) convincing acting as well as great singing.  The “Caballé swoop” is all but absent from this performance, barring an unfortunate intrusion in Io son l’umille ancella.  She is commanding yet vulnerable as the heroine, at one point the majestic Melpomene, at another the betrayed lover.  Her voice is clear and unmannered almost throughout, and she shows some gorgeous dynamic shading at the end of her first aria that rightly draws enthusiastic applause from the audience.  Poveri fiori, in particular, is solid, clear and quite touching. 

1976 saw Carreras in his prime, and here his young, ardent voice suits Maurizio to a T.  He produces some glorious ringing top notes in his solos, and his duets with his two lovers are all marvellous.  He too manages an impressive graded diminuendo at Adriana’s death.  This is a fitting tribute to the artist before the publicity machine took over.  Most characterful of all, however, is the fire-eating Fiorenza Cossotto, who chews up the scenery as the Princess.  She is a formidable, imperious stage presence with a full, rich voice to match.  Her first aria in Act 2 is really exciting, and she clearly loves the excitement of the live occasion; her vengeful fury in Act 3 is entirely believable.  In short, the three principals strike sparks off each other and raise this melodrama to the level of great music which it can miss in the hands of lesser mortals.  D’Orazi is a well-rounded Michonnet, curmudgeonly in the opening scene, but touching in his not-quite-declarations-of-love for Adriana.  The comprimario roles are all taken very well, especially the Abbé if Piero de Palma. 

Sensibly, the production is ultra-traditional with well designed period costumes and sets.  One down side is the daft-as-a-brush Judgement of Paris ballet which just looks naff, but otherwise the sets are pleasing on the eye, though the stage does feel a bit small.  And let’s not forget the marvellous tunes with which this opera is packed: Adriana’s two big arias, Maurizio’s military tale in Act 3, the Actors’ song in Act 4 and the glorious love music, to name but a few. 

So let’s hear it for this opera, in spite of its faults.  The chances of seeing it on the stage any time soon are fairly small, so enjoy great performance of the past in the meantime, and if you can bear the subtitles then this is a good a one as any.

Simon Thompson


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