CILEA Adriana Lecourvreur
Like other contemporary second-stage verismo dramas, Adriana Lecouvreur is chock-a-block with unfulfilled sexual promise and obsessive moving of period furniture. It has a complex plot and the long, complicated cast list spends a lot of time in concealment, a kind of dramatic equivalent of the (over-)richly scored music then dominating concert hall and opera house. It’s a somewhat crazy yet oddly compelling story of the death by poisoned violets of the real-life early-18th-century Comédie Française actress.
If you’ve ever investigated this opera’s generous discography you’ll have come across the myriad of live performances given by Magda Olivero following a legendary return to the stage in 1951. Testament’s tribute to the singer takes the (well-remastered) form of one of these, an Edinburgh Festival broadcast from 1963 where she replaced Renata Tebaldi. It serves as not only a memento of the singer but an exciting ride through the work in an already-existing and played-in production from Naples.
In a candid autobiographical note, Olivero denied that she had a voice in terms of something individually memorable or distinctive but noted her ability to create atmosphere and personality. That’s certainly true of this performance in an opera where the title-role is nearly always heard in conflict – be it misunderstanding the motivation of her soldier lover Maurizio (a passionate but sometimes pushed and not always vocally secure Juan Oncina), having what would prove to be a fatal row with the jealous Princess of Bouillon (the mezzo ‘baddie’ role histrionically taken here by Adriana Lazzarini) or putting up with the frustrated love of stage director Michonnet (a moving Sesto Bruscantini). Oliviero de Fabritiis, a regular conductor of noted vocal debuts and of this score, finds a just mixture of pell-mell action and Romantic introspection without overdoing either.
Other rivals in the field include Decca’s recent DVD with Gheorgiu and Kaufmann, and the super-complete Sutherland/ Bonynge recording with WNO forces – but the combination of live snapshot and Olivero’s special link with the title-role make this issue essential.