Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino 2020-21 Review: Adriana Lecouvreur

Highlights and Missed Opportunities on One Italian Opera Stage

By Polina Lyapustina
Photo: Michele Monasta

Sometimes an opera can be so addictive that you cannot get it out of your mind for hours or even days after you’ve heard it. The world created by the piece might be so convincing or the passion and struggles of the story so real that your head just keeps coming back to it. Every time it happens to me I wonder what it was that made it so effective. Was it the merit of the composer, the director, or the cast? And almost every time it seems impossible to separate these parts. 

Before I saw “Adriana Lecouvreur,” immediately after the reopening of Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, I had never noticed, though it is my job to work with the issues of the industry, that even the most amazingly done performances brought by the most talented artists need a glue to present them as an effective whole. 

The Queens and Kings

Maria José Siri, who made her role debut as Adriana earlier this year, was the true pearl of the evening. Her first appearance was striking, particularly her “Io son l’umile ancella,” and she managed to maintain that wonderful level of excellence throughout the entire night.

Ksenia Dudnikova’s Princess de Bouillon, Adriana’s adversary, was powerful in every way. During the Act two duet “E sia! Non risponde,” her voice resonated with command in every response to the soprano’s phrases. Together Dudnikova and Siri created crackling, ice-cold chemistry on stage. 

Tenor Martin Muehle portrayed Maurizio, the man at the center of both Adriana and the Princess de Bouillon’s affection. He sang with great mastery and balanced the character’s strong and determined personality with his conflicted sentiments for both women. 

The Prince de Bouillon and The Abbé de Chazeuil portrayed by Alessandro Spina and Paolo Antognetti respectively were also highlights to the performance. The two brought humor and style to the stage, using their natural vocal and acting capabilities. 

The ballet was wonderful as well, showcasing the entire narrative in a single beautiful and sad image. It also presented the ‘Judgement of Paris’ scene with gravitas and poise.  

What a wonderful mosaic all these individuals should form when together on stage! They are kings and queens, masters of their craft! Why then, with all my respect for the work and talent of these people, can I still only list them without any excitement? 

Could it be that their diverse talents were not enough for the most complex art form? Not enough, indeed. Unfortunately, all their efforts were never built together on the stage. It was as if many talented people had been preparing on their own and no-one had ever seen the combined result till the premiere. The promised, sparkling picture of artistic cohesion never appeared, no matter how well each artist had prepared for their individual roles.

A Single Mistake to Cause a Million Troubles

The lack of cohesion became evident subtly, but each little inconsistency and problem only added to a growing sense that the opera would not deliver what it had set out to do.

Adriana never actually looked like she was in love with Maurizio. When he told her about love in the first act she acted certainly, but what was the act? Her eyes were stuck to the balcony and never responded to those around her in the world of the stage. The star of the night played and sang alone for the whole performance.

The powerful mezzo-soprano Dudnikova could never harmonize with the orchestra and unfortunately often lost against its background.

Maurizio for his part never reached the technical level of his lover and all their dialogs eventually felt like monologues with two people standing on stage. 

The brilliant acting of Spina and Antognetti served as a regular reproach to everyone else. The performance of the dancers jarred too much with the bewildered movements of the choir. The entire implementation of the ballet part of the performance was neither bonded with the acting of others nor supported them.

And suddenly, with the grave and thunderous singing of the still-amazing Siri in Act four, you realize the opera is coming to its finale and all hope that the opera will find its glue is lost. 

The Savior 

Honestly, watching this potentially glorious performance losing all its greatness and brilliance for small mistakes, fragmentation, and unpreparedness, I intuitively turned my eyes to where I felt the power and balance emanating from the strongest. In the pit that night Daniel Harding might have been doing his usual work, yet, against the backdrop of the devastating staging, his open communication and rapport with the orchestra was a miracle and dream.

They might have not had enough time for the rehearsals, but I mention this not because of the quality of their playing, but due to the reality of Italian theatres, so you can understand how attentive the conductor is to the musicians and how deeply the difficult parts were worked out and felt.

I would like to recognize also that in the most emotional moments of the opera, when the music is tasked with creating the intensity, the performance from the pit did not concede in any way and often even won out over the action on stage. 

The difficulties inherent in the responsibility Daniel Harding took upon himself in taking his personal approach to the major Italian stage paid off with great response. He had an understanding with and trust in the orchestra and its vivid and flexible sound. That night the orchestra exploded with the full musical potential of Cilea’s score. Their sharpness was razorblade, the fluidity so powerful it felt as though it would wash the entire hall away. And suddenly, and very naturally, the conductor could reset the musicians to the lighter moves. But even ‘moves’ is too coarse a word, for these were delicate, crystalline gestures.

I only wish the stage could have supported this beautiful sound. Unfortunately, the calibration of the sound of the orchestra and soloists is not often a priority in the preparation process.

Every amazing artist, either a soloist, musician, director, or conductor, is ultimately left to be responsible for their part. With huge respect, I would say that the team behind “Adriana Lecouvreur” did well, but the picture just did not add up in the end. In an industry where people so often fight for the priority in decision making, what I saw and heard recently in Italy reached a new level of estrangement. It was ‘every man for himself.’ And the result was the question that should never have to be asked: what was that on stage? What can an audience do with these fragmented pieces when we have not been given the glue to piece them together?


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