Adriana Lecouvreur: An opera review by Victor Grynberg

February 22, 2023 by Victor Grynberg
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Francesco Cilea’s ADRIANA LECOUVREUR is a rarely produced opera nowadays, and this critic doesn’t recall ever seeing it before.

So with much anticipation, we arrived at the Joan Sutherland Theatre with the somewhat startling news that the much acclaimed Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho, slated to sing the all-important title role, had been struck by a strong, persistent cough and was replaced by local soprano Natalie Aroyan.

It was a relief to be told that Ms Aroyan did, in fact, know the role well. More about her performance later.

Michael Fabiano as Maurizio and Natalie Aroyan as Adriana Lecouvreur                     Photo Credit: Keith Saunders

The opera itself, set in Paris,  premiered in Milan in 1902 and was originally set in 1730 when a famous actress was poisoned after a series of conflicting love triangles. Supposedly based on a true story, the opera was inspired by a hit  1854 play of the same name by Eugene Scribe, the most successful French playwright of that period. Those readers familiar with the much admired Paris Opera building won’t, therefore, be surprised that the adjoining Rue Scribe was named after him.

This work was by far the most popular of the five operas written by Cilea, and the role of Maurizio, aka the Count, was sung by the pre-eminent tenor of his day, and perhaps ever since, Enrico Caruso. I haven’t heard the recording made by Caruso at the time, but American tenor, the great Michael Fabiano, was indeed excellent in his vocal range ad purity as well as the modern prerequisite of being an extremely credible actor.

Soon after the commencement of the opera Natalie Aroyan sings the big hit “Io son l’umile ancella”. I am the humble servant of the creative spirit.

An extraordinarily beautiful melody, sung magnificently and immediately getting a very well-deserved big round of applause. The melody is indeed so beautiful that I counted at least five more times during the night that Cilea used parts of it. Ms Aroyan’s complete performance was so good that it could be argued why import a star when the local talent is so strong?

Indeed this opera has a lot of demanding roles, and a remarkably strong cast was very evident on the night.

As the Count’s rival, Italian baritone, Giorgio Caoduro was in top form. The Romanian mezzo, Carmen Topciu always sets a very high standard for Opera Australia and in the role of the Principessa was as accomplished as ever.

Virgilio Marino really carried off the role of the Abbe as though he was actually a priest, and Richard Anderson, who always hits the target in singing and acting, was an excellent Prince.

Emalyn Knight, Louis Fontaine, Brendan Irving, Ashley Goh, Jessica Smithson, and the Opera Australia Chorus
Photo Credit: Guy Davies

Adriana Lecouvreur is a co-production between Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Fundación Ópera de Oviedo and Opera Australia.

From the opening, set in backstage of the Comedie Francaise at an undetermined time, till the last of the four acts, which is set in much more recent times than 1730,  the staging has many surprises. There is even a cardboard cut-out of Marilyn Monroe. All of which kept the delighted full house very appreciative.

Victor Grynberg

From the very start, OA’s brilliant chorus, under the leadership of Paul Fitzsimon, whose on-stage appearance at the conclusion was most welcome, really hit the spot every time.

Is it fair, in a night of wonderful singing and acting, to say that the biggest highlight was the acrobatic rope work by aerialist Brendan Irving who brought the house down? The other dancers should also be acknowledged for their work.

Enthusiastic Italian conductor, Leonardo Sini, standing just in front of this writer, certainly knows how to lead the strong Opera Australia Orchestra to be the perfect accompanist to the singers. Bravo.

Once more, OA has delighted its audience with a really first-class production

4 ½ stars


Joan Sutherland Theatre

Sydney Opera House

February 20, 2023.


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