Opera Review: Adriana Lecouvreur/ Opera Australia

Adriana Lecouvreur/ Opera Australia

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

February 20, 2023

It was a triumphant night for Armenian-Australian soprano Natalie Aroyan on the opening night of Francesco Ciléa’s Adriana Lecouvreur in the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the Sydney Opera House. With the starring soprano Ermonela Jaho indisposed, Aroyan was called upon to perform this role, not only on opening night, but one that was new to her list of performance credits, alongside superstar tenor Michael Fabiano.  

Already well-respected as a principal artist with Opera Australia, Aroyan has sung roles from Mimì to Desdemona, Micaëla to Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and most recently as Odabella in the recent production of Attila.

Aroyan spun her richly coloured lyric soprano tones through the wide registers of the role, delivering spoken monologue and the two show-stopper arias Io son l’umile ancilla and Poveri fiori, with aplomb, the latter at the climax of the drama after being on stage through most of the action of this 4-act tale. Whilst Aroyan’s on-stage composure can sometimes seem dispassionate, her performances in the second and final acts were intensely dramatic.

Aroyan was vocally well-matched with Fabiano, who made his role debut as Maurizio, the part sung by Enrico Caruso at the premiere of the opera in Milan in 1902 and in which Placido Domingo made his Met Opera debut in 1968. The role was well-suited to Fabiano’s thrilling higher spinto register and compelling declamatory style but was not without its more tender moments as evidenced in his Act 1 aria La dolcissima effigie.

It’s hard to know why Francesco Ciléa’s verismo tale about Adrienne Lecouvreur a star of the 18th century Comédie Française in Paris, fell into oblivion after its early success. It is the only one of Ciléa’s three operas that has endured. The arias are sweeping, the ensemble writing is engaging, the orchestration is lush and the melodies linger – but it is argued that there are too few of them and that they recur too often. Regardless, the title has been synonymous with Joan Sutherland, Renata Tebaldi and more recently, Anna Netrebko.

This production from Opera Australia has been co-produced with the Teatro Comunale di Bologna and the Fundación Ópera de Oviedo. Director Rosetta Cucchi has made elegant work of the setting, taking us behind the scenes and into the lives of theatre folk. She has placed the four acts at different points in time which makes for interesting costuming and effects, including the deft use of cine-theatre, but this hasthe effect of a discontinuity which slightly confuses the roles and the narrative.

Set in Paris, the opening act takes place in the 1730s. Act 2, in 1860 with its costumes and stage design could have emerged from a Disney princess movie. In Act 3, Cucchi transports us to the 1930s with its flapper designs and inventions like moving pictures and the steam train. The dancers and the mesmerising grace and athleticism of the aerial gymnast add interest to the club scene taking the place of what was originally a ballet scene, giving us the chance to hear some of Ciléa’s instrumental craftsmanship. Finally, in 1968, we see a ‘mod’ looking Adriana in her barely furnished salon. The production we 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.

Michael Fabiano is no stranger to Sydney. His lauded 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).

Giorgio Caoduro played an excellent Michonnet, though vocally somewhat overshadowed by Fabiano. The fourth act interaction between Adriana and Michonnet appeared physically awkward, though musically satisfying.

Adriana Lecouvreur has all the elements designed to capitivate – a luscious score, a dramatic heroine, concealed identities, a love triangle, lavish costumes, intrigue and a poisoned nosegay. The Opera Australia Chorus, and the Opera Australia Orchestra conducted by Leonardo Sini, were in fine form with an excellent supporting ensemble comprising Virgilio Marino, Richard Anderson, Anthony Mackey, Adam Player, Jane Ede and Angela Hogan.

Well worth seeing.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

Opera Australia’s production of Adriana Lecouvreur is on selected evenings in the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the Sydney Opera House till 7 March 2023. 

Read our intervew with Kate Gaul, Asistant Director of Adriana Lecouvreur.

Read our review of Turandot from Opera Australia’s 2022 season.

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