OPERA NEWS - Adriana Lecouvreur
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Adriana Lecouvreur

Gran Teatre del Liceu

Nothing works better to lift the operatic spirits in Barcelona than a cast of international stars singing in a solid, traditional staging of a tried-and-true standard-repertory work. 

Yes, Spain seems to be in an economic mess: the Gran Teatre del Liceu has escaped having to close down for two months this year only due to the generosity and flexibility of the workers and the administration. But by the final curtain of this vibrant, blood-stirring performance of Francesco Cilèa's Adriana Lecouvreur (seen May 14), it seemed as if the good times had come back to Barcelona. 

Cilèa's verismo perennial arrived at the Liceu in the clever, well-thought-out staging of local favorite David McVicar, with unashamedly grand sets by Charles Edwards — a coproduction with Covent Garden, Paris, Vienna and San Francisco. McVicar takes the story at face value, without irony or comment: it's theater-within-the-theater, the tragedy of a great actress who dares to love a nobleman, gets crushed by her much more powerful rival, a princess, and dies surrounded by her true and loyal friends, her stage family. From beginning to end, a stage, usually empty, shows what Adriana loves and where she belongs. The use of lights and the movements of the stage itself are used to impressive emotional effect in the endings of the first and last acts. 

Scribe and Legouvé's 1849 drama on the life and death of Adrienne Lecouvreur (1692–1730), a star of the Comédie-Française in the early eighteenth century, was a popular vehicle for the divine Sarah Bernhardt beginning in the 1880s, as well as the inspiration for Cilèa's opera, which had its premiere in Milan in 1902, with Caruso, De Luca and Pandolfini as its stars. Of the three Adriana casts on offer at the Liceu this season, I saw the stellar first one. Its brilliant prima donna was soprano Barbara Frittoli, who offered a moving portrait of an actress in the Bernhardt mold. Frittoli's stage presence was impressive, her tone beautiful, her legato velvety and her rendition of the scene from Phèdre thrilling. Frittoli's wondrous theatricality and the perfect silence in the huge theater made every word audible in her long spoken declamation. 

At her side, the Maurizio of Roberto Alagna was a lesson in verista bravura. The role is ungrateful: it is hard to love a tenor who insults his lover not because of mad jealousy, like Alfredo in La Traviata, but out of cold political ambition. Yet the French tenor's vibrant delivery and impeccable diction almost made his character likeable. 

The main couple's love rivals were very strongly cast as well. Beloved Liceu veteran Josep Pons portrayed the old, genial Comédie Française director Michonnet, Adriana's hopeless admirer, with memorable dignity and a soft, grainy, still strong melodic line. Mezzo Dolora Zajick, who can show rage in its most extreme expression while losing none of the beauty in her seemingly limitless voice, delivered a high-voltage Principessa di Bouillon. 

Among the minor characters, the commendable supporting singers Giorgio Guisepponi, as Bouillon, and Francisco Vas, as the Abbé di Chazeuil, created a delightful comic pair. Maurizio Benini, a regular Verdi conductor in Barcelona, infused brio and excitement into the orchestral playing. 

As usual in the Liceu premières, a priceless helper in the shadows got his due: all the principals took a moment from their bows to thank, throw kisses and shake the hand of one of the most valuable members of the Liceu family, veteran prompter Jaume Tribó. spacer


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