Cilea

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COMPOSERS: Cilea
LABELS: TDK
ALBUM TITLE: Cilea
WORKS: Adriana Lecouvreur
PERFORMER: Daniela Dessì, Sergei Larin, Olga Borodina, Carlo Guelfi; La Scala Chorus & Orchestra/Roberto Rizzi Brignoli; dir. Lamberto Puggelli (Milan, 2000)
CATALOGUE NO: DV-OPADL
The theatre (sorry, ‘thi-AY-ter’) is, it seems, full of actors who’d rather snort lines than speak them – and I don’t just mean Miss Piggy. But Adriana Lecouvreur, the leading lady of the early 18th-century Comédie-Française, must be the only actress in history who has ever OD’d from nosing a bouquet, though it helped that the violets were poisoned. With so theatrical a death, poor Adriana was almost fated to be turned into a tragic heroine herself by that great scribbling-machine of 19th-century French melodrama, the aptly named Eugène Scribe. And it was Scribe’s play, in turn, that formed the basis for Francesco Cilea’s creakily ‘theatrical’ backstage opera, though so hacked about was the text that even Monsieur Taupe would have problems following it, while TDK’s note writer certainly gets lost in what Kobbé calls ‘the comedy of the letters’. Suffice it to say it’s really a re-run of La Gioconda, without the blazing brigantine (and with a balletic version of the Judgement of Paris in place of the ‘Dance of the Hours’), but still with two strong women vying for the love of a worthless adventurer, while Adriana commits social suicide by reciting a particularly bitchy bit of Racine at her rival’s at-home before she finally sniffs and snuffs it in a finale Miss Piggy herself would call ham.

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Even in 1902 it was old hat, and La Scala’s 2000 revival responds in kind, seizing on the green-room setting of Act I to fill the stage with a couturier’s dream of fine silks and satins, velvet plush and powdered perukes, fluttering fans, feathered headgear and frogged frock coats. In the midst of which the cast just look for the musical limelight and then hog it. If Daniela Dessì tends to the shrill and sour, and Sergei Larin to the loud and lachrymose, Olga Borodina turns in a suitably imperious performance as the Princess, while in the opera’s only sympathetic role, that of the lovelorn stage manager Michonnet, Carlo Guelfi almost makes Cilea’s musical clichés emotionally convincing. Mark Pappenheim