Kate Gaul On Adriana Lecouvreur

Two of the world’s greatest opera singers come to Sydney to perform in Adriana Lecouvreur, by Francesco Ciléa, an Opera Australia co-production with the Teatro Comunale di Bologna and the Fundación Ópera de Oviedo. Making his role debut as Maurizio, Count of Saxony is the outstanding tenor, Michael Fabiano. Joining him on stage as Adriana is the incomparable soprano Ermonela Jaho. Directed by Rosetta Cucchi, Artistic Director of the Wexford Festival, the Assistant Director for the Sydney run is Sydney-based director, creative producer and designer Kate Gaul.

Adriana Lecouvreur is a true-to-life tale about Adrienne Lecouvreur a star of the 18th century Comédie Française in Paris. It is the most enduring of the few operas written by Ciléa and premiered with great success in Milan in 1902, with none other than Enrico Caruso as Maurizio. The first London performance took place at Covent Garden in 1904, followed by performances at the Metropolitan Opera, New York after which the piece was forgotten until a revival at the Met in 1963 with Renata Tebaldi as Adriana. It was in this production in 1968 that Plácido Domingo made his Met debut as Maurizio.

Michael Fabiano is no stranger to Sydney. His powerful performances for Opera Australia include the title roles in Werther (2019) and Faust (2015) and Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor (2018). Jaho too has dazzled on the Sydney stage for Opera Australia in the title role of Anna Bolena (2019) and as Violetta in La Traviata (2017).

The production we will see in Sydney premiered as a televised version in March 2021 during Italy’s COVID-19 lockdown. Its stage premiere was in Bologna in November 2021, under the direction of Cucchi. Kate Gaul has been at Cucchi’s side in Sydney, bringing the production to the stage of the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the Sydney Opera House. 

Speaking to SoundsLikeSydney, Gaul says “What our director Rosetta has conceived is a really fantastic production that takes place over three centuries, so each act is set in a different period of time from the 1700s the 1800s and two periods in the 20th century, and that’s a really intriguing thing to watch. Every act is about half an hour and they are incredibly dynamic visually and musically of course. The singing is sublime.”

“Rosetta has been in the room, rehearsing the opera with the Australian and international cast. It’s great when you’re working with a director who is able to return to a work several times because it really does make it richer every time” she adds.

A graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and Artistic Director of Siren Theatre Company, Gaul has an extensive list of productions to her name. Notable among her opera credits are Castor + Pollux  for Pinchgut Opera, The Cunning Little Vixen for Sydney Chamber Opera and Hansel and Gretel for Pacific Opera. For Opera Australia, Gaul was the assistant director for Lohengrin, Rigoletto and Aida and revival director for Attila.

Gaul says her role as Assistant Director for Adriana Lecouvreur includes “understanding the production as Rosetta conceived it and is directing it, assisting her with anything, particularly when it comes to the chorus or the actors or the dancers. Once the show opens I rehearse all the covers for the opera because every principal role is covered by another artist. Sometimes we can do that before a show opens and sometimes we can’t, so my job is to take the work of the principal director into the second cast in case we have any replacements during the season. I go to every performance and deal with any of the challenges that come up. In this production every chorus member has a very particular role to play and if one of them is off, we have extra chorus members come in to fill the role. It’s taking them through that staging and the various things they have to do at various times.”

Gaul points to the familiar shortcomings of the stage of Sydney’s opera theatre. “The Sydney stage is obviously smaller than most opera houses” she admits “but the production will look very similar. Like a lot of the productions that come from overseas, you have to sneak it all in a little bit so some of the staging has changed because of the sight lines at the Joan Sutherland (opera theatre), but essentially the relationships between the characters is the same and the characters that are being presented are the same even though they are taken on by other performers who make the characters their own.”

What’s it like working with luminaries like Jaho and Fabiano? “They’re terrific artists” she enthuses. “Their work is very detailed. Particularly with Ermonela, she’s really incredible. She brings a 100 per cent to her work every day. And she’s always wanting to discover what she can bring to the role. She works extremely well with Giorgio Caoduro who plays the role of Michonnet. They have that gorgeous 4th act together and I think that’s the coup de théâtre. “It’s amazing to work with these great artists.”

Adriana Lecouvreur has all the elements designed to capitivate – a luscious score, a dramatic heroine, concealed identities, a love triangle, lavish costumes and a poisoned nosegay, all set across several centuries, with stellar soloists, the forces of the Opera Australia Chorus, the Opera Australia Orchestra and even an aerial gymnast. Conducted by Leonardo Sini, the cast includes Virgilio Marino, Richard Anderson, Anthony Mackey, Adam Player, Jane Ede and Angela Hogan in the minor roles.

Says Gaul, “For a relatively unknown opera I would say it’s really worth having a look at. I feel lucky to be sitting in on this because we know our Verdi, our Puccini and our Mozart so it’s nice to get a sense of a lesser known work that can be just as rich for audiences.”

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

There will be seven performances of Adriana Lecouvreur in the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the Sydney Opera House from 20 February 2023 to 7 March 2023.


Read our review of Opera Australia’s production of Turandot.

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